Stevens cautions against locking up state seas

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens cautioned against closing large areas of water to the state's oil and fishing industries.

Stevens,R-Alaska, was among those speaking Wednesday to members of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Stevens told commissioners at a hearing in Anchorage that a distant and ''unwitting'' Congress, encouraged by environmentalists, had withdrawn much of Alaska's land from resource development and had all but killed the timber industry. He said he wouldn't like to see the same happen in the vast seas around the state, especially if Alaskans didn't have much say.

''I'm going to oppose anything that sets up a process of withdrawals off our shore that's not managed by the local people,'' he said.

Stevens was among several politicians, commercial fishing people and conservationists to address the commission, established by Congress in 2000. The 16-member panel has been holding hearings around the country to review U.S. ocean policy and the impacts of pollution, fishing, development and transportation.

The panel, which includes longtime Anchorage banker Ed Rasmuson, could report to Congress and the president as soon as March, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Many believe the commission's report could have the same impact as the 1969 Stratton Commission report. That report led to formation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes agencies to forecast weather, conduct ocean research and manage fisheries.

Stevens, who has authored some of the nation's most significant fishing laws, and other speakers emphasized that no state has more ocean coastline or produces more seafood than Alaska.

Stevens said much oil could be developed offshore Alaska, but only if those areas aren't closed.

Stevens also defended the eight regional fishery management councils he helped create around the country. They give local people, not Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, a strong say in deciding how offshore fisheries are conducted, he said.

Clem Tillion, a former commercial fisherman and Alaska legislator, said the state made much of its progress toward healthy fisheries after becoming a state.

''We have eight times more salmon today than when we took over from the federales in '59,'' he said. ''We have trouble marketing them, but we have no trouble making them.''

The commission hearing was continuing Thursday.

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