Senators question oceans commission report

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Alaska's U.S. senators have panned the report of a private study panel that on Wednesday made sweeping recommendations to Congress for saving the nation's oceans from pollution, commercial fishing and coastal development.

The 144-page report from the Pew Oceans Commission capped three years of public hearings and deliberation by the 18-member panel of politicians, scientists, fishermen and others, including former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.

Alaska's senators attacked the report even though it praised fishery management in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, which serve up half the nation's commercial catch.

They said the Pew panel was too quick to junk the existing system of fishery management in favor of a new, Washington-centered bureaucracy.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and author of some of the foremost federal fishery laws, said he was ''very troubled by the apparent attacks'' on the eight existing regional councils that regulate ocean commercial fishing around the country. Stevens co-authored the landmark 1976 act that created those councils.

''I believe the Pew report is tainted by the millions of dollars they spend on environmental litigation aimed at stopping commercial fishing,'' Stevens said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said not only commercial fishing but other activities such as recreational boating and fishing, and mineral interests ''could be greatly restricted or wholly prohibited'' by the Pew proposals.

The study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a multibillion-dollar Philadelphia-based philanthropy established by the family of Sun Oil Co. founder Joseph Pew, is the first of two major ocean reports to Congress. The second is expected later this summer from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, a study group appointed by Congress itself.

Commission chairman Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, said Wednesday oceans need the same kind of protections that President Teddy Roosevelt helped bring to the land.

The panel urged Congress to create a new federal agency to corral the mishmash of agencies that have some say in regulating oceans, and to set up new, conservation-minded regional councils to govern commercial fishing and other activity.

The Pew report catalogs a raft of threats to U.S. seas: Massive agricultural drainage that has created a Massachusetts-sized ''dead zone'' where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico; robust coastal development that is fouling thousands of acres of vital habitat for young fish; overfishing that has decimated stocks of rockfish on the Pacific coast and cod and other species on the Atlantic coast; pollution from cruise ships and millions of gallons of oily pavement runoff; hordes of invasive species; and a general lack of funding for ocean research.

Charles Kennel, a commission member and director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Calif., said Congress should double funding for basic ocean science to $1.5 billion annually.

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