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State Should Lead Oceans Restoration

by Chris Wells, Guest Columnist
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 23, 2004

Oceans have been a vast and generous resource. They provide habitat for an intricate web of life, numerous economic possibilities and an intangible aesthetic value. Wild fish stocks, if well managed, are the epitome of sustainability. A source of healthy food, wild fish also contribute to a vibrant economy, support thousands of jobs and families and take up little land. Given the value of a healthy ocean to our society, we should do everything in our power to protect it.

Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, we are on course to "love our oceans to death." After considering the comments of more than 800 interested parties and 37 governors, including Washington Gov. Gary Locke, the commission delivered its final report to President Bush this week and concluded that oceans are headed squarely for tragedy. The report blamed overfishing, bycatch (the accidental catch of non-target species), habitat destruction, pollution and faulty management for a precipitous decline in the health of ocean ecosystems.

The commission also recommended improving the management of the ocean and its incredible resources in a number of ways: establishing a National Oceans Council to make ocean interests a priority for the federal government; managing the oceans on an ecosystem-wide basis to reflect growing understanding of the interconnectedness of ecosystems; improving the connection between coastal and watershed management; doubling the money going to ocean research; and separating assessment and allocation decisions in fisheries management so that scientists, not corporate fishing interests, decide how much fishing an ecosystem can sustain.

The science is clear: We desperately need timely, effective measures to halt the tragic decline of oceans and return them to health.

Washington state is where those measures should start.

Almost every aspect of life in the Northwest reflects our proximity to the ocean. We live with weather dominated by the ocean's dampness. We escape to the Olympic Peninsula or San Juan Islands on vacation. We eat wild salmon from boats at Fisherman's Terminal. Most of us know someone who makes their living fishing or is employed by another ocean-based occupation, and we are visited regularly by tourists who come to see fish being tossed at Pike Place Market or to hop on a cruise up the coast.

Northwesterners have witnessed the best and worst in fisheries management. Rockfish species off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California have suffered like so many fish around the country -- some populations have plummeted to less than 10 percent of historic levels. At the same time, certain populations off Alaska are the strongest of any commercial fish in the world.

And we have a strong heritage in oceans protection: It was Washington's Sen. Warren Magnuson -- in whose office Rep. Norm Dicks worked as a young man -- who penned the original Magnuson Act, the first comprehensive legislation to address ocean governance.

Washingtonians are perfect candidates to be stewards and advocates for ocean health -- not only do we understand the ocean, we depend on it. So Washington's members of Congress should lead the fight to restore ocean health.

They should reform by co-sponsoring the Fisheries Management Reform Act, one of the first bills to enact the commission's recommendations; they should advocate the establishment of a national oceans policy; and they should demand funding for research programs to better understand complex ocean ecology.

They should do it for our fish, our fishermen, our economy, our coastal communities, and what we get when we add it all up: the culture and spirit of the Pacific Northwest.

Chris Wells is oceans associate for the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG), a non-profit, non-partisan environmental, consumer advocacy and democracy organization
State Should Lead Oceans Restoration
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 23, 2004

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