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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ocean Commissions: Ocean Policy Review and Outlook

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

In 2003 and 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission made numerous recommendations for changing U.S. ocean policy and management. The 109th Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (P.L. 109-479), incorporating provisions recommended by both commissions, and authorized the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (P.L. 109-449). Several bills encompassing a broad array of cross-cutting concerns such as ocean exploration; ocean and coastal observing systems; federal organization and administrative structure; and ocean and coastal mapping were considered, but not acted on during the 110th Congress.

Identification of the need for a comprehensive national ocean policy can be traced back to 1966, when a presidential Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources was established (called the Stratton Commission). In 1969, the commission provided recommendations that led to reorganizing federal ocean programs and establishing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). By the late 1980s, a number of influential voices had concluded that U.S. ocean management remained fragmented and was characterized by a confusing array of laws, regulations, and practices. After repeated attempts, the 106th Congress enacted legislation to establish a U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (P.L. 106-256). Earlier in 2000, the Pew Oceans Commission, an independent group, was established by the Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct a national dialogue on restoring and protecting living marine resources in U.S. waters.

In June 2003, the Pew Commission released its final report, America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, outlining a national agenda for protecting and restoring the oceans. In September 2004, the U.S. Commission published, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, its final report with 212 recommendations on a coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy. On December 17, 2004, the Bush Administration submitted to Congress the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, its formal response to the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission established the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative in early 2005 to collaborate on a number of key recommendations of both reports. The Joint Ocean Commission has remained active in advancing these recommendations to Congress and the Administration.

In June 2009, the Obama Administration established an Ocean Policy Task Force to develop a national ocean policy. On September 10, 2009, the task force released the Interim Report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, which includes national ocean policy priorities, a governance structure for interagency coordination, and an implementation strategy. On December 9, 2009, the task force released the Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, which recommends a regional approach to marine spatial planning.

The 111th Congress is continuing to consider ocean policy and management recommendations of the two commission reports. Comprehensive changes in ocean governance and administrative structure are proposed in the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 21) and the National Oceans Protection Act of 2009 (S. 858). However, most congressional activity has focused on specific topics. Title XII of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11) included subtitles that address ocean exploration, ocean and coastal mapping, ocean and coastal integrated observation, ocean acidification research and monitoring, and coastal and estuarine land conservation.

Date of Report: July 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33603
Price: $29.95

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