WASHINGTON – A key congressional panel today passed a landmark bill, strongly backed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), that would reinvigorate the health of U.S. coastal waters and bolster the sustainability of the oceans.
The legislation, known as Oceans 21 (H.R. 21), passed the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans by a vote of 11 to 3.
Recent reports have found that the world’s oceans and their living resources are under serious threat from the combined effects of pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and climate change. WWF officials said Oceans 21 would shore up the health and sustainability of the coastal waters and marine resources under U.S. jurisdiction – including those in the Great Lakes and Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans – by establishing a clear and coordinated federal policy on oceans and by providing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with a legislatively mandated mission and structure.
“The lack of a clear federal ocean policy has resulted in decades of disjointed regulations and uncoordinated activities across more than a dozen federal agencies,” said Jason Patlis, WWF’s Vice President and Managing Director of U.S. Government Relations. “By outlining a clear policy on oceans and establishing a coordinated effort to implement it, Oceans 21 will help ensure the sustainability of the world’s largest natural resource.”
“The oceans underpin nearly $117 billion of the annual global economy,” said William Eichbaum, Vice President of WWF’s Marine Program. “Major industries, including fisheries and tourism, are inextricably linked to the health and sustainability of the oceans. Protecting marine resources is in our own economic self-interest.”
In reports issued in 2003 and 2004, respectively, the independent Pew Oceans Commission and the congressionally chartered U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy found the lack of a coordinated overarching ocean policy to be a primary threat to ocean health. Currently, U.S. ocean policy is governed by nearly 150 federal laws, which are implemented by approximately 20 different agencies. Further, NOAA, the primary agency with jurisdiction over ocean issues, does not have a legislatively defined mission or structure.
Oceans 21 would establish a comprehensive federal policy for the oceans that focuses on broad ecosystems rather than individual species and regions. Federal laws and agency regulations would be required to comply with the new policy to the greatest extent possible.
The legislation would also codify NOAA as the lead federal civilian agency for oceans, coasts and Great Lakes management. Additionally, it would establish Regional Ocean Partnerships to improve coordination among federal, state and local governments and would establish dedicated funding sources for implementing ocean management and conservation activities.
“Oceans 21 may only extend to waters under U.S. jurisdiction, but those waters comprise a significant percentage of global fisheries and are home to some of the most cherished marine resources on the planet – from the Bering Sea’s endangered right whales to the grand offshore kelp forests that run from Alaska to Mexico, to the fragile coral reefs and magnificent marine turtles of the South Pacific and the Caribbean,” said Eichbaum.
Patlis added: “I commend Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) for his leadership in sponsoring Oceans 21 and Chairman Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam) for her leadership in shepherding the bill through her subcommittee. I encourage the full Natural Resources Committee to schedule a vote on this important bill as soon as possible and clear it for consideration by the full House of Representatives.”