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Ocean Policy: Striking a Balance
(Released October 2000)



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Recent U.S. policies regarding the use of marine resources have sought to compromise between environmental issues and economic interests.

Our oceans are home to a rich diversity of species. They add to our store of scientific knowledge about ecosystems, species interactions, and climate cycles, and enhance our lives with aesthetic beauty and a host of recreational activities. They also support our fishing, seabed mining, and aquaculture industries. Once considered an inexhaustible resource, the seas are now showing the results of environmental stressors they have experienced over the past decades, including pollution, pesticide runoff, overfishing, and coral reef degradation. Wise legislation attempts to help species and habitats that are vulnerable or declining, while protecting the interests of industries and individuals whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.

President Clinton acknowledged the importance of a balanced ocean policy by signing P.L. 106-256 (S. 2327) on August 7, 2000 (see Associated Press news story). The bill established a Commission on Ocean Policy to study federal ocean legislation. The commission will be composed of 16 representatives of industry, government, environmental groups, and scientific institutions, and will start work in January 2001. It will present its findings to Congress in 2002.

Legislation in the 106th Congress has addressed a diversity of marine topics, including regulation of the fishing industry, development of aquaculture, and marine mammal conservation, as described in the Congressional Research Service Issue Brief, Fishery, Aquaculture, and Marine Mammals Legislation in the 106th Congress (September 20, 2000).

Commercial and sport fishing legislation included bills intended to reduce salmon mortality in Columbia and Snake River irrigation systems and turbines, provide for coral reef conservation, improve water quality in the Florida Keys, provide funds to states under the Wallop-Breaux Sport Fish Restoration Program, compensate fishermen who suffered losses in hurricanes and in the Long Island Sound lobster fishery disaster, manage fishing in Glacier Bay National Park, and sponsor fishery restoration.

Aquaculture, the farming of fish and other aquatic species under controlled conditions, is one of the fastest-growing food production industries in the world. Legislation in this area included a proposal to fund the development of regulation and permit-issuing procedures for aquaculture facilities using Coastal Zone Enhancement Grants.

Legislation with regard to marine mammals revoked a Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) exemption that permits subsistence hunting of Cook Inlet beluga whale until the end of fiscal year 2000 (unless a cooperative agreement is negotiated between NMFS and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council), and terminated the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's civil administration of the Pribilof Islands in Alaska.

The 106th Congress is expected to address the reauthorization and amendment of two major laws: the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) that manages domestic use of fish and shellfish in U.S. coastal waters beyond the jurisdiction of individual states, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act that restricts use of these animals and provides for their protection under specific circumstances.

Written by Heather E. Lindsay.