December 15, 2004 Press Statement
White House Expected to Respond
To Ocean Commission Next Week
Commission Chairman says
President Has Opportunity
to Guide Ocean Management
for the 21st Century
Washington, DC---The fate of Americas oceans will in large part be determined next week when President Bush is expected to respond to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policys Final Report. The White Houses position on the Commissions findings and recommendations will set the tone for legislative action on key ocean issues for the 109th Congress.
Its no secret that our nations oceans and coasts are in serious trouble, said Admiral James D. Watkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, as he presented the final report to the President and Congress on September 20. The release of the report triggered a 90-day clock for the President to submit to the Congress a statement of proposals to implement or respond to the Commission's recommendations.
We understand that the President intends to meet the December 20 deadline, said Watkins at a recent forum on Ocean Policy hosted by the Brookings Institute. We remain hopeful that President Bush will meet this challenge with a visionary response that draws heavily from the recommendations contained in An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.
Similar to the recent 9/11 Commission Report, the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy centered on the need for a major overhaul of government structures and approaches. It's been 35 years since the bulk of our nation's marine policy structure was created by the last national ocean commission, the Stratton Commission, said Watkins. But those structures have been allowed, in the intervening years, to atrophy, giving rise to an outdated, Byzantine patchwork of confusing, and sometimes contradictory, federal and state authorities and regulations.
President Bush talks of the need for fundamental change in core government operations and organizations when he speaks of the tax code, social security, and homeland security, said Watkins. Equally dramatic changes are needed in ocean and coastal management. The systems we currently have were created for yesterday, not for tomorrow.
This nation must respond to the new realities facing our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes, and now is the time to effect fundamental change, said Watkins. Our commission is convinced that we still have a window of opportunity to reverse the damage, expand upon some promising opportunities, and put a new national ocean policy in place, but there is no time to waste.
Some members of Congress have realized the importance of the threat to our oceans and coasts and have introduced legislation to begin reforming national ocean policy. But without the Presidents leadership and a clear mandate, I am afraid these efforts wont go far enough, said Watkins.
According to the report, Americas oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are an unequaled asset to the nation. They are the source of the planets life support and climate control, as well as a repository of cultural heritage and pure aesthetic value. Ocean-related industries such as fisheries, tourism and maritime trade directly contribute more than $117 billion annually to American prosperity and support well over two million jobs. Economic activity in coastal watershed counties accounts for nearly 76 million jobs and over $4.5 trillion annually, almost one-half of the nations gross domestic product.
An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century states that inattention, irresponsibility, and the lack of information has resulted in fisheries being depleted, recreational areas despoiled, water quality degraded, wetlands drained and many citizens deprived of jobs. Every year, more than 28 million gallons of oil from human activities enter North American waters. Of the nations 259 major fish stocks (99 percent of total commercial landings), 20 percent are either already over fished or experiencing over fishing. Over 500 invasive species have become established in coastal marine habitats of North America, including zebra mussels that assaulted the Great Lakes and an alien pathogen that has diminished native oyster stocks in the Chesapeake Bay. .
Our nation cannot continue on this path and deal with these problems piecemeal as we now do. We need a comprehensive national ocean policy, grounded in an understanding of ecosystems, addressing the complex interrelationships among the ocean, land, air, and all living creatures, said Watkins. Now is our chance to make a difference.
The commissions Final Report contains 212 recommendations for a new national ocean policy that balances the interests of stakeholders to create a framework that effectively and efficiently preserves and utilizes the nations oceans and coasts and their resources. The Commission identifies changes in the three general areas below as vital in the transition towards an ecosystem-based management approach:
- Creating a new National Ocean Policy Framework to streamline and improve decision-making
- Strengthening science and generating high-quality, credible, accessible information
- Enhancing ocean education to instill future leaders and informed citizens with a stewardship ethic.
The Commission also estimates the cost of each recommendation and assigns its implementation to a specific federal agency. The Commission recommends that the additional funding be provided through the establishment of an Ocean Policy Trust Fund based on revenue from offshore oil and gas development and other new and emerging offshore uses.
The oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are among natures greatest gifts to us. Wise actions taken today, based on the best available science, can restore what has been lost and create even greater benefits, Watkins continued. But change must happen today, not tomorrow, and we must provide adequate resources and funding to make a real difference to save this precious resource. If the President follows the commissions lead, we can reclaim and renew that gift for ourselves, for our children, and if we do the job right for those whose footprints will mark the sands of beaches from Maine to Michigan to Hawaii long after ours have washed away.