Web Extra     September 20, 2001

Commissioning the oceans

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the president’s 16-member Commission on Ocean Policy held its organizational, kick-off meeting in Washington, D.C. The Commission on Ocean Policy will conduct a review of ocean-related issues and make recommendations to President Bush and Congress for a comprehensive policy on the oceans and Great Lakes. The review spans the next 18 months, and includes six public hearings and the submittal of a final report to the president.

Not since the Stratton Commission, which created a comprehensive set of policy recommendations in 1969, has the federal government sought a comprehensive ocean policy. Their recommendations established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and laid the groundwork for significant fisheries and coastal management legislation, including the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

“They really do have a daunting task,” says Ellen Prager, assistant dean at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, of the members of the recently appointed commission. Chaired by James Watkins, Navy admiral and president emeritus of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, the commission will help policy-makers address issues ranging from marine pollution and climate change, to fisheries and coastal management.

Among the commission’s goals are reviewing all federal activities and laws, assessing current research facilities and resources, examining new technology investment opportunities, and looking at the relationships between federal, state and local governments and the private sector. Prager says a “strategic plan” is necessary to bring together the various organizations that represent ocean interests.

In accordance with the Oceans Act 2000, President Bush appointed 12 commissioners from a list of 24 people nominated by Congress, and he directly selected the other four commissioners. Within the oceanographic community, some have raised concerns over the commission’s apparent lack of representation for environmental organizations. All 16 members hail from academic, government and industry groups.  The Act requires that within 120 days of delivery of the commission’s report, the president submit to Congress proposals and responses to its recommendations.

Lisa M. Pinsker

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