Ocean Commissions: Ocean Policy Review and Outlook
Ocean Policy Review and Outlook
Updated August 15, 2008
Harold F. Upton and Eugene H. Buck
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Ocean Policy Review and Outlook
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 109th Congress.
Similar bills have been reintroduced in 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 President submitted to Congress the U.S. Ocean Action Plan,
his 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. As part of this effort, they
developed a U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card. The 2007 Report Card showed modest
progress in implementing recommendations of the two commissions, with an overall
grade of C, up from an overall average of C- in 2006.
The 110th Congress has continued to consider ocean policy and management
recommendations of the two commission reports and the President’s response.
Approaches range from the comprehensive changes in ocean governance and
administrative structure proposed in the Oceans Conservation, Education, and
National Strategy for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 21 and S. 3314), to specific topics
such as reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 (H.R. 1205 and
Background and Analysis...........................................1
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy................................3
Reports and Working Documents.............................4
Delivery of the Commission Report...........................4
Summary of Commission Recommendations....................5
Changes Contained in the Final Report.........................5
Comments on the U.S. Commission’s Work.....................6
The Pew Oceans Commission....................................7
Summary of Pew Commission Recommendations................7
Comments on the Pew Commission’s Work.....................9
Administration Response and Implementation.......................9
Joint Ocean Commission Initiative...............................11
Issues for Congress...............................................13
Ocean Policy Review and Outlook
Background and Analysis
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission have
made numerous recommendations for changing U.S. ocean policy and management.
In considering legislative responses to the findings and recommendations of the
ocean commissions and the President’s response, Congress may consider compre-
hensive bills encompassing a broad array of cross-cutting concerns, including ocean
exploration; ocean and coastal observing systems; federal organization and
administrative structure; and ocean and coastal mapping integration; or they may
consider addressing each concern separately.
Congress has shown interest in ocean affairs in recent decades, examining
components of the federal ocean programs, enacting legislation creating new ocean
programs, and taking steps to define a national ocean policy. The Marine Resources
and Engineering Development Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-454) established a National
Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development in the White House and
initiated work by a presidential bipartisan Commission on Marine Science,
Engineering, and Resources. Dr. Julius Stratton, then recently retired president of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, at the time, Chairman of the Board of the
Ford Foundation, was appointed commission chairman by President Lyndon Johnson.
The commission, composed of 15 members, was often referred to as the Stratton
Commission. In 1969, the commission completed its final report, Our Nation and
the Sea: A Plan for National Action, and its more than 120 formal recommendations
provided what many considered to be the most comprehensive statement of federal
policy for exploration and development of ocean resources. The study was
instrumental in defining the structure, if not all the substance, of what a national
ocean policy could or should look like. Furthermore, new ocean-oriented programs
were initiated and existing ones were strengthened in the years following the
commission’s report, through a number of laws enacted by Congress.
Recommendations of the Stratton Commission led directly, within the following
decade, to forming the National Sea Grant College Program, to creating the National
Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere (NACOA), and to reorganizing
federal ocean programs under the newly established National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Subsequent legislation on estuarine reserves,
national marine sanctuaries, marine mammal protection, coastal zone management,
fishery conservation and management, ocean pollution, and seabed mining also
reflected commission recommendations. Efforts sprang up within the federal
government and among various interagency and federal advisory committees to flesh
out how best to implement a truly comprehensive and forward-looking national ocean
policy, most notably articulated in the 1978 Department of Commerce report U.S.
Ocean Policy in the 1970s: Status and Issues.1
Since 1980, with concerns about limiting federal expenditures and streamlining
government, there have been fewer ocean initiatives, and a number of ocean
programs, particularly those of NOAA, have been consolidated and reduced.
However, the programs begun in the 1970s generally have been reauthorized and
have matured. By the late 1980s, there appeared to be a broad consensus among
those conversant in ocean affairs that a need existed to redefine or, at the very least,
better define national ocean policy. Two stimuli for this renewed interest were the
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the 1988 extension of the U.S. territorial sea
from 3 to 12 nautical miles, both of which came in the aftermath of the President’s
decision that the United States would not sign the U.N. Convention on the Law of the
S ea. 2
Legislation creating an oceans commission and/or a national ocean council to
review U.S. ocean policy was introduced and hearings were held in the 98th, 99th,
September 1987, and again in October 1988, but was not acted on by the Senate in
any of those instances. In the 105th Congress, legislation creating both a national
ocean council and a commission on ocean policy passed the Senate in November
However, Congress adjourned in 1998 before differences between these two
measures could be reconciled. It was not until the 106th Congress in 2000 that
legislation was enacted to establish a 16-member U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy
(P.L. 106-256). The commission’s charge was to make recommendations for a
coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy for a broad range of ocean
issues. The enactment rode a crest of interest generated largely by a National Ocean
Conference convened by the White House in June 1998, in Monterey, CA,3 and
attended by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, against a background of
media and public attention surrounding the declaration by the United Nations of 1998
as the International Year of the Ocean.4 Momentum was added by the September
1999 release of a post-Monterey conference report, ordered by the President and
prepared by members of his Cabinet, entitled Turning to the Sea: America’s Ocean
1 U.S. Dept. of Commerce, U.S. Ocean Policy in the 1970s: Status and Issues (Washington,
DC: GPO, 1978), 334 pp.
2 For more information, see CRS Report RS21890, The U.N. Law of the Sea Convention and
the United States: Developments Since October 2003, by Marjorie Ann Browne.
3 U.S. Dept. of Commerce and Dept. of the Navy, Oceans of Commerce ... Oceans of Life,
Proceedings of the National Ocean Conference, June 11-12, 1998, Monterey, CA
(Washington, DC: NOAA, 1998), vi + 241 pp.
4 The International Year of the Ocean was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly on
December 19, 1994, in resolution A/RES/49/131, Question of Declaring 1998 International
Year of the Ocean, at the initiative of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
(IOC) of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Future, in which recommendations were offered for a coordinated, disciplined, long-
term federal ocean policy.5
Also in 2000, partially in response to that rekindled interest and partially in
response to congressional legislation having failed final passage in 1998, the Pew
Charitable Trusts established the Pew Oceans Commission, an independent group of
18 American experts in their respective fields. The Pew Commission’s charge was
to conduct a national dialogue on the policies needed to restore and protect living
marine resources in U.S. waters. Pew proceeded with their effort after failing to
persuade key Members of Congress to introduce legislation to establish a
public/private, nongovernmental oceans commission.
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy
The Oceans Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-256) mandated a U.S. Commission on Ocean
Policy. Appointed by the President, the commission was required to issue findings
and make recommendations to the President and Congress for a coordinated and
comprehensive national ocean policy. The new policy was to address a broad range
of issues, from the stewardship of marine resources and pollution prevention to
enhancement and support of marine science, commerce, and transportation.
The 16 members of the commission were appointed by President Bush on July
3, 2001. Those appointments were based on a process that included nominations by
Congress and appointment by the President.
The commission convened its inaugural meeting on September 17-18, 2001, in
Washington, DC, and commissioners selected Admiral James D. Watkins, U.S. Navy
(retired) as chair. Through several sessions, the commission established four
working groups to address issues in the areas of (1) governance; (2) research,
education, and marine operations; (3) stewardship; and (4) investment and
implementation. The working groups were charged with reviewing and analyzing
issues within their specific areas of focus and reporting their findings to the full
The Oceans Act of 2000 specifically directed the commission to establish a
Science Advisory Panel to assist in preparing the report and to ensure that the
scientific information considered by the commission and each of its working groups
was the best available. The composition of the Science Advisory Panel was
determined by the commissioners; members were recruited in consultation with the
Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council at the National Academy of
Sciences and reflected the breadth of issues before the commission. The commission
divided the members of the Science Advisory Panel into four working groups,
consistent with the full commission’s structure.
The commission began its work by launching a series of public meetings to
gather information about the most pressing issues that the Nation faced regarding the
5 U.S. Dept. of Commerce and Dept. of the Navy, Turning to the Sea: America’s Ocean
Future (Washington, DC: NOAA, 1999), 64 p.
use and stewardship of the oceans. The working groups played an important role in
determining the effectiveness of the regional public meetings and in identifying key
issues to be addressed by the commission. In each region visited, the commission
heard presentations on a wide-ranging set of topics judged to be necessary to
ultimately address the requirements in the Oceans Act of 2000. Based on the
information gathered at the public meetings, the working groups identified and
reviewed key issues, outlined options for addressing those issues, and determined the
need for white papers providing more detailed information on specific topics. The
deliberations of each working group were shared with the other groups throughout
the process to better coordinate development of the final commission report and
After hearing 440 presenters at 15 public meetings in 10 cities during 11 months
and conducting 17 additional site visits around the country, the commission
completed its information-gathering phase in October 2002. The commission began
deliberations in November 2002, and the last meeting dedicated to open public
discussion of policy options — the sixteenth public commission meeting — was held
April 2-3, 2003, in Washington, DC.
Reports and Working Documents. Examples of supporting documents,
working papers, and publications either produced for or generated by the commission
include Draft Policy Option Documents, Working Table of Contents, Governing the
Oceans, Elements Document, and Law of the Sea Resolution. These documents are
available in pdf format on the commission’s website at [http://www.
Delivery of the Commission Report. The commission published its final
report in two stages. First, on April 20, 2004, the commission released a Preliminary
Report, which was available for a 30-day period of review and comment by the
nation’s governors and interested stakeholders.6 That Preliminary Report was built
on information presented at the public meetings and site visits, combined with
scientific and technical information on oceans and coasts from hundreds of experts.
The findings and policy recommendations in the Preliminary Report reflected a
consensus of commission members and presented what the commissioners believed
to be a balanced approach to protecting the ocean environment while sustaining the
vital role oceans and coasts play in the national economy.7
After the public comment period closed, stage two of the process commenced
when the commission began reviewing the comments and modifying the preliminary
report in response to gubernatorial or other stakeholder input. At its 17th public
meeting on July 22, 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy approved changes
to its Preliminary Report and directed staff to prepare the final report, bearing the
6 On May 14, 2004, the commission extended the closing date for public comment on the
Preliminary Report to June 4, 2004. This extension applied to governors and all other
7 The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s preliminary report, Preliminary Report of the
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, is available at [http://oceancommission.gov/documents/
official title An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. That report, with its
recommendations on a coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy, was
delivered to the President and Congress on September 20, 2004, in ceremonies at the
White House and on Capitol Hill.
Summary of Commission Recommendations. The commission
presented 212 recommendations throughout An Ocean Blueprint; of these
recommendations, 13 “critical” actions recommended by the commission can be
summarized as follows:
1. Establish a National Ocean Council in the Executive Office of the
President, chaired by an Assistant to the President.
4. Develop a flexible and voluntary process for creating regional ocean
councils, facilitated and supported by the National Ocean Council.
7. Increase attention to ocean education through coordinated and effective
formal and informal programs.
10. Create measurable water pollution reduction goals, particularly for
nonpoint sources, and strengthen incentives, technical assistance, and other
management tools to reach those goals.
improving the Regional Fishery Management Council system, and
exploring the use of dedicated access privileges.
13. Establish an Ocean Policy Trust Fund based on revenue from offshore oil
and gas development and other new and emerging offshore uses to pay for
implementing the recommendations.
Changes Contained in the Final Report. At its meeting on July 22, 2004,
the commission unanimously approved numerous changes to the recommendations
and text in the commission’s Preliminary Report, which were included in the final
report, An Ocean Blueprint. Those modifications were based on more than 600
pages of comments from 37 governors and 5 tribal leaders; responses from more than
800 public commenters, stakeholders, and other experts and advisers; as well as
technical corrections provided by federal agencies. There were, however, no changes
to the 13 critical actions listed above. A detailed summary of specific changes
appearing in An Ocean Blueprint is available on the commission’s website.9 Changes
of an overall general nature in the final report include the following:
8 An integrated system could provide (1) raw data on oceanographic parameters, with data
assembled and checked for quality; (2) data management and communications involving a
system of standards and protocols to allow a wide variety of data to be located, integrated,
and archived; and (3) data analysis and incorporation into models of environmental
!The report was revised to further emphasize the important role of
states, and to clarify that the commission favors a balanced, not a
“top down,” approach of shared responsibility for ocean and coastal
!The report clarified the commission’s intent to embrace all coastal
areas and decision-makers, including the Great Lakes, U.S.
territories, and tribes;
!Many sections of the report were revised to address the issue of
climate change and its impacts on the oceans and coasts;
!The importance of cultural heritage in connection with the ocean
was more fully recognized and addressed; and
!Discussions about the funding needed to implement
recommendations were consolidated into an expanded Chapter 30
(“Funding Needs and Possible Sources”).
Comments on the U.S. Commission’s Work. The governors’ and tribal
leaders’ comments on the commission’s Preliminary Report were generally
favorable. Most of the 37 governors and 5 tribal leaders highlighted the report’s
comprehensive treatment of ocean and coastal issues, the economic importance of
oceans and coasts, and the need to take immediate action to protect and enhance the
health of these resources. Their primary concerns related to funding issues; the
participation of states, territories, and tribes in national policy development; and the10
need for flexibility in the implementation of such policies.
Public comments were received from private citizens (including school
children), non-governmental organizations, trade associations, governmental and
quasi-governmental organizations (e.g., regional fishery management councils),
academicians, scientists, and lawyers. The vast majority of public commenters
praised the report as comprehensive and balanced, and voiced their support for
implementation of the recommendations. Although many supported the report’s
major themes and recommendations, a significant number of commenters highlighted
areas of particular concern, including national and regional governance, federal
organization, offshore management regimes, funding for science and research and for
implementation of commission recommendations, ecosystem-based management,
regulation and enforcement, and living marine resources. Furthermore, there were
numerous additional comments on a suite of issues, including cruise ships, climate
change, atmospheric deposition, invasive species, bottom-trawling, bycatch, wind
energy, coastal development, international ocean policy, and seafood safety.11
Soon after the release of the commission’s preliminary report, several Members
of Congress commented on the report and its recommendations. These members
generally supported the basic thrust of the report, but specific issues such as the level
10 A summary of comments submitted by the governors and tribal leaders on the Preliminary
Report is available on the commission’s website, at [http://www.oceancommission.gov/
newsnotices/summary_govcomments.pdf]. The full text of their comments is also available
online at [http://www.oceancommission.gov/documents/gov_comments/welcome.html].
11 A two-page summary of the public comments is available on the commission’s website
of proposed funding increases, creation of a specific oceans structure in the White
House, and the transfer of other agencies’ functions to NOAA were questioned.12
Articles and editorials in regional media generally focused on selected local issues,13
while interest groups highlighted specific issues. Some states made their comments
publically available.14 Some commenters criticized the report and its
recommendations as further contributing to excessive government control.15
The Pew Oceans Commission
The Pew Oceans Commission, an independent group of 18 authorities in ocean-
related issues and government, was established in April 2000 and funded by a $5.5
million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct a national dialogue on the
policies needed to restore and protect living marine resources in U.S. waters. This
commission released its final report, America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course
for Sea Change, on June 4, 2003, outlining a national agenda for protecting and
restoring the oceans.16 In addition, during this process, nine “science reports” were
prepared and released.17
Summary of Pew Commission Recommendations. The commission’s
26 recommendations, organized within six categories, are summarized in the final
report as follows:
A. Governance for Sustainable Seas
integrity, resilience, and productivity of the ocean.
2. Establish regional ocean ecosystem councils to develop and implement
enforceable regional ocean governance plans.
12 “Experts Give Broad Support to new U.S.Ocean Policy; Evaluate Report on New Policy
at House Hearing,” Federal Infomation and News dispatch, Inc., available at [http://www.
nexis.com/ research/home?ke y=1184340909&_session=a39a86a8-3156-11dc-96bb-0000
8a0c593c.1.3361793709.296188.8.131.52&_state = & w c h p = d G L b V l z-zS kB b & _ md 5 = d7d1ff
13 For example, see Greg C. Bruno, “Sea Change for State: National Ocean Report Could
Have Big Impact on Florida,” Gainesville Sun, April 21, 2004; and Wesley Loy,
“Commission Gives Props to Alaska Fisheries,” Anchorage Daily News, April 20, 2004.
14 For example, see those of Texas posted at [http://www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/bpp/
15 For example, see [http://worldwildlife.org/oceans/report.cfm].
16 The full report is available at [http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_detail.aspx?id=130].
17 The topics of the nine science reports were (1) Managing Marine Fisheries in the United
States; (2) A Dialogue on America’s Fisheries; (3) Socioeconomic Perspectives on Marine
Fisheries in the United States; (4) Marine Reserves: A Tool for Ecosystem Management and
Conservation; (5) Ecological Effects of Fishing in Marine Ecosystems of the United States;
(6) Coastal Sprawl and the Effect of Urban Design on Aquatic Ecosystems in the United
States; (7) Marine Pollution in the United States; (8) Marine Aquaculture in the United
States; and (9) Introduced Species In U.S. Coastal Waters. Copies of these reports are
available at [http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_detail.aspx?id=130].
B. Restoring America’s Fisheries
6. Redefine the principal objective of American marine fishery policy to protect
11. Require comprehensive access and allocation planning as a condition of
C. Preserving Our Coasts
13. Develop an action plan to address non-point source pollution and protect
water quality on a watershed basis.
14. Identify and protect from development habitat critical for the functioning of
15. Institute effective mechanisms at all levels of government to manage
development and minimize its impact on coastal ecosystems.
16. Redirect government programs and subsidies away from harmful coastal
development and toward beneficial activities, including restoration.
D. Cleaning Coastal Waters
17. Revise, strengthen, and expand pollution laws to focus on non-point source
18. Address unabated point sources of pollution, such as concentrated animal
feeding operations and cruise ships.
19. Create a flexible framework to address emerging and nontraditional sources
of pollution, such as invasive species and noise.
E. Guiding Sustainable Marine Aquaculture
21. Implement a new national marine aquaculture policy based on sound
conservation principles and standards.
22. Set a standard, and provide international leadership, for ecologically sound
marine aquaculture practices.
F. Science, Education, and Funding
23. Develop and implement a comprehensive national ocean research and
25. Improve the use of existing scientific information by creating a mechanism
or institution that regularly provides independent scientific oversight of ocean
and coastal management.
26. Broaden ocean education and awareness through a commitment to teach and
learn about the world ocean, at all levels of society.
Comments on the Pew Commission’s Work. Comments on the
commission’s work ranged from dismissive to laudatory. Some were concerned that
the commission’s work was not objective, being overly influenced by the
“environmental agenda” of the Pew Charitable Trusts as an attack on commercial
seafood harvesting, while ignoring other significant issues such as the damaging
effects of oil spills in the marine environment.18 Representative Richard Pombo, then
Chair of the House Committee on Resources, issued a press release on June 4, 2003,
critical of the Pew Commission report, concluding “we cannot expect such a group
to issue non-biased recommendations.” Praise for the report came from commission
members, who saw the report as a long overdue update of antiquated U.S. ocean19
policy, offering practical solutions to reverse declining trends. John Flicker, the
President of the Audubon Society, referred to this report as a wake-up call to all
Americans that the oceans and coastal areas are in real trouble, offering a blueprint
for action to protect ecosystems at risk.20 The Pew Commission report covered only
a portion of ocean issues, compared with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy,
which covered a broader cross-section of issues.
Other than the House Resources Committee press release, others in Congress
did not immediately react to the release of the Pew Oceans Commission report. Pew
commissioners, including chairman Leon E. Panetta, testified before the U.S.
Commission on several occasions. Elements of the Pew Oceans Commission report
are reflected in legislation passed by the 109th Congress such as the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (P.L. 109-479)
and the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (P.L. 109-449).
Administration Response and Implementation
Within 120 days after receiving the U.S. Ocean Commission’s report, the
President was required to submit to Congress a statement of proposals to implement
or respond to the commission’s recommendations for a national policy on ocean and
coastal resources.21 In doing so, the President was directed to consult with state and
local governments and non-federal organizations and individuals involved in ocean
and coastal activities.22
On December 17, 2004, the President submitted to Congress a U.S. Ocean23
Action Plan, his formal response to the recommendations of the U.S. Commission.
Also on December 17, President Bush signed Executive Order 13366 establishing,
18 Nils E. Stolpe, The Pew Commission — A Basis for National Ocean Policy?, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.f i shi n gn j .or g/ net u sa23.ht m] .
19 Pat White and Jane Lubchenco, “New Policies on Ocean Fishing Overdue,” The Boston
Globe, June 5, 2003, p. A19.
20 John Flicker, “Save the Coasts, Even if Only for Our Sake,” Sun Sentinel, June 19, 2003,
21 P.L. 106-256, § 4(a).
22 P.L. 106-256, § 4(b).
23 The 39-page Action Plan is available at [http://ocean.ceq.gov/actionplan.pdf].
as part of the Council on Environmental Quality, a Committee on Ocean Policy, to
be led by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.24 On January 26, 2007,
the Committee on Ocean Policy released the U.S. Ocean Action Plan Implementation
Update.25 The original action plan and the update cover progress in six general
!enhancing ocean leadership and coordination;
!advancing our understanding of the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes;
!enhancing the use and conservation of ocean, coastal, and Great
!managing coasts and their watersheds;
!supporting marine transportation; and
!advancing international ocean policy and science.
To support this effort, the Committee on Ocean Policy established an ocean
governance structure composed of subsidiary bodies to coordinate existing
management: the Interagency Committee on Ocean Science and Resource
Management Integration (ICOSRMI) and two subcommittees, established by the
National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the Joint Subcommittee on
Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) and the Subcommittee on Integrated
Management of Ocean Resources (SIMOR). In January 2008, the ICOSRMI released
the Federal Ocean and Coastal Activities Report to Congress for CY 2006 and 2007.
The report provides an overview of select activities and accomplishments of Ocean
Action Plan implementation.26
JSOST was assigned the task of developing an interagency planning document
and implementation strategy for ocean science and technology priorities. On January
26, 2007, the National Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy
was released by JSOST.27 The plan presents research priorities and guidance on how
various ocean science sectors should be engaged to address areas of greatest research
opportunity. JSOST also is to coordinate six working groups on (1) ocean education,
(2) ocean infrastructure, (3) ocean observation, (4) harmful algal blooms, hypoxia,
and human health, (5) ocean and coastal mapping, and (6) ocean partnership.
SIMOR seeks to facilitate collaboration and cooperation among federal agencies
and to build partnerships among federal, state, tribal, and local authorities.
According to the SIMOR work plan, subcommittee priority areas include:
!supporting regional and local collaboration;
24 The text of this executive order is available at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/
25 The 57-page Action Plan Update is available at [http://ocean.ceq.gov/oap_update012207.
26 The report is available at [http://ocean.ceq.gov/].
27 The National Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy is available at
!facilitating use of ocean science and technology in ocean
!enhancing ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resource management to
improve use and conservation; and
!enhancing ocean education.28
The National Park Service Ocean Park Stewardship Action Plan is an example
of the collaborative efforts envisioned in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan29 and is
summarized in the action plan update. The Stewardship Action Plan highlights the
establishment, in partnership with NOAA, other relevant agencies, and public and
private entities, of a seamless system of ocean parks, sanctuaries, refuges, and
reserves. This plan also identifies actions related to mapping, enhancing protection,
educating and engaging the public, and increasing the technical capacity for
exploration and stewardship. These efforts are supported by a general agreement
among the Department of Commerce (National Marine Sanctuary Program and
Estuarine Reserves Division) and the Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife
Service and National Park Service) to collaborate on efforts to improve management
efficiencies, increase joint planning efforts, enhance public education, and improve
law enforcement and rescue capabilities.
In 2004, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended Senate advice
and consent to U.S. adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea (UNCLOS), but the Senate did not act. On May 15, 2007, President Bush issued
a statement in which he “urged the Senate to act favorably on U.S. accession to
UNCLOS during this session of Congress.” On October 31, 2007, the Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations voted to recommend Senate advice and consent to
UNCLOS. It is unknown whether the Senate will act on the Convention during the
Joint Ocean Commission Initiative
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission
identified complementary recommendations for a number of key areas in their
respective reports. A collaborative Joint Ocean Commission Initiative was initiated
in early 2005 to maintain the momentum generated by the two commissions. This
initiative is guided by a ten-member task force, five of whom served on each
commission, and is led by former commission chairs Admiral James D. Watkins and
the Honorable Leon E. Panetta. The main objective of the initiative is to maintain
progress on ocean policy reform with core priorities that include the need for
ecosystem management, ocean governance reforms, improved fisheries management,
increased reliance on science in management decisions, and more funding for ocean
and coastal programs.
28 SIMOR priorities are discussed in Priorities for the Subcommittee on Integrated
Management of Ocean Resources, available at [http://www.ocean.ceq.gov/about/docs/
29 The Ocean Park Stewardship 2006-2008 Action Plan is available at [http://www.nps.gov/
30 For more information, see CRS Report RS21890, The U. N. Law of the Sea Convention
and the United States: Developments Since October 23, 2003, by Marjorie Ann Browne.
On March 16, 2006, a bipartisan group of 10 Senators requested that the Joint
Ocean Commission Initiative report on the top 10 steps Congress should take to
address the most pressing challenges, the highest funding priorities, and the most
important changes to federal laws and the budget process to establish a more
effective and integrated ocean policy. In response on June 13, 2006, a national ocean
policy action plan for Congress, From Sea to Shining Sea: Priorities for Ocean
Policy Reform — A Report to the United States Senate, was delivered to Congress by
the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative and was intended to serve as a guide for
developing legislation and funding high-priority programs.31
This action plan responded to the Senators’ request to identify the most urgent
priorities for congressional action to protect, restore, and maintain the marine
ecosystem. According to the plan, the 10 steps are:
!adopt a statement of national ocean policy;
!pass an organic act to establish NOAA in law and work with the
Administration to identify and act upon opportunities to improve
federal agency coordination on ocean and coastal issues;
!foster ecosystem-based regional governance;
!reauthorize an improved Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation
and Management Act;
!enact legislation to support innovation and competition in ocean-
related research and education consistent with key initiatives in the
Bush Administration’s Ocean Research Priorities Plan and
Implementation Strategy (discussed in the following section on
“Administration Response and Implementation”);
!enact legislation to authorize and fund the Integrated Ocean
Observing System (IOOS);
!accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea;
!establish an Ocean Trust Fund in the U.S. Treasury as a dedicated
source of funds for improved management and understanding of
ocean and coastal resources by federal and state governments;
!increase base funding for core ocean and coastal programs and direct
development of an integrated ocean budget; and
!enact ocean and coastal legislation that progressed significantly in
the 109th Congress.
An updated U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card for 2007 was released by the Joint
Ocean Commission Initiative on February 27, 2008.32 As it had done in 2005 and
2006,33 the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative assigned grades for actions taken (or
not) in 2007. The 2007 Report Card showed modest progress in implementing
recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans
Commission, with an overall grade of C, up from an overall average of C- in 2006.
31 The full action plan is available at [http://www.jointoceancommission.org/resource-center/
32 Available at [http://www.jointoceancommission.org/resource-center/2-Report-Cards/
33 Available at [http://www.jointoceancommission.org/resource-center/2-Report-Cards/
The 2007 Report Card also highlighted the need for funding increases in the general
areas of research, management, and infrastructure and the need for establishing an
Ocean Trust Fund to support state and federal ocean agencies. A new category was
added to the 2007 Report Card for efforts to link oceans and climate change. Grades
were provided for each of the following areas: national ocean governance reform (D);
regional and state ocean governance reform (A-); international leadership (C+);
research, science, and education (C-); fisheries management reform (C+); new
funding for ocean policy and programs (D+); and links between oceans and climate
Since 2006, the Senate Committee on Appropriations has reviewed the U.S.
Ocean Policy Report Card annually. In 2008, as in the previous two years, the
committee agreed with the analysis and has taken the Commission’s
recommendations into account in developing the NOAA budget.34 The committee
recommendation would provide $4.44 billion for NOAA. This would be $549
million above the FY2008 enacted level of $3.89 billion and $342 million above the
FY2009 budget request of $4.10 billion.35
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative remains active in promoting ocean
policy reform through press releases, letters to and testimony before Congress, and
public speaking engagements. Other recent actions include releasing a report titled
An Agenda for Action: Moving Regional Ocean Governance From Theory to
Practice, and sending letters to Congress in support of H.R. 21, of establishing ocean
and coastal trust funds, and of U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Convention.
Additional information about the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative may be found
Issues for Congress
The 110th Congress continues to consider whether and how to respond to the
findings and recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission report, America’s
Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, and the report of the U.S.
Commission on Ocean Policy, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. Over three
years after the release of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s report and more
than four years after the release of the Pew Oceans Commission report, some
progress on ocean policy reform has been made. However, hundreds of
recommendations suggested by the two commissions have not been addressed.
The 109th Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation
and Management Act (MSFCMA) (P.L. 109-479), incorporating provisions reflecting
many recommendations made by both commissions. These provisions address a
34 Senate Committee on Appropriations, Departments of Commerce, and Justice, Science,
and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2009, S.Rept. 110-397, p. 22-23, June 23, 2008.
broad array of topics, including dedicated access privileges, overfishing, and fish
stock rebuilding as well as issues of concern to specific fisheries and regions. After
its passage, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative highlighted provisions related to
enhancing the role of science, establishing sustainable harvest levels, authorizing the
use of market-based approaches, and setting a clear deadline for ending overfishing.
The Administration also emphasized provisions authorizing market-based limited
access privilege programs, as well as language strengthening fisheries enforcement,
developing ecosystem pilot programs, establishing community-based restoration
programs, and creating a regionally-based registry for recreational fishermen.
The 109th Congress also considered bills on specific ocean topics, including
ocean exploration; ocean and coastal observing systems; marine debris research,
prevention, and reduction; and ocean and coastal mapping integration. Related issues
considered include whether to (1) provide additional funds for ocean-related
research; (2) replace a fragmented administrative structure with a more coherent
federal organization; or (3) adopt new approaches for managing marine resources,
such as setting aside large reserves from some or all uses. Only one bill was enacted,
the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (P.L. 109-449). This
legislation established a program within NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard to help
identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris and its
damage to the marine environment and navigation safety, in coordination with
Early in the 110th Congress, H.R. 21, the Oceans, Conservation, Education, and
National Strategy for the 21st Century Act was introduced. H.R. 21, first introduced
in the 108th Congress, would implement many recommendations of the Pew and U.S.
Commission reports, by establishing a comprehensive national ocean policy for the
management of U.S. coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes. The legislation would:
!establish a national ocean policy with emphasis on conservation of
!authorize the NOAA;
!establish a national ocean advisor and federal advisory bodies on
ocean policy; and
!strengthen and formalize regional coordination by promoting a
regional governance structure;
Supporters of the bill point to the need to improve ocean conservation because
of stresses on marine ecosystems such as pollution, habitat destruction, invasive
species, and overfishing. They believe that greater investments are needed to reflect
the importance of oceans to our economy and well-being.36 A coalition of Alaska
fishing industry groups, however, questions whether the proposed legislation would
duplicate efforts, lead to more bureaucracy, conflict with other legal mandates, and
result in confusion and litigation.37 They would rather see greater focus on funding
36 “Oceans Protection Bill Introduced in U.S. Congress,” Environment News Service,
[ h t t p : / / www.ens-newswi r e .com/ e ns/ j an2007/ 2007-01-04-04.asp] .
37 “Proposed Oceans 21 Bill Confounds Oceans Conservation Efforts, MCA Warns,” Marine
and implementation of current laws, such as the recently reauthorized MSFCMA.
On April 23, 2008, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries,
Wildlife, and Oceans voted 11-3 to send the bill to the full Natural Resources
Committee. On July 23, 2008, a similar bill, the National Oceans Protections Act of
It remains an open question as to whether the 110th Congress will continue
action on this comprehensive approach to ocean policy or concentrate on specific
subjects or issues. Furthermore, areas of Administration action, or inaction, are
likely to continue to may receive congressional oversight during the 110th Congress.
Over 100 bills related to the oceans and Great Lakes have been introduced in the
110th Congress. The following list is a sample of bills that focus on issues identified
by the ocean commissions:38
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act, H.R. 250. This bill
would authorize NOAA in the Department of Commerce with sections that include
(1) the mission and functions of NOAA; (2) NOAA leadership; (3) maintaining the
National Weather Service within NOAA; (4) conduct and support of research and
education; (5) reports to Congress; (6) reorganization plans; (7) Science Advisory
Board; (8) facility evaluation process; and (9) other matters related to agency
functions and requirements.
Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act, H.R. 260. This bill would establish
marine and freshwater research, development, and demonstration programs to
support efforts to prevent, control, and eradicate invasive species, as well as to
educate citizens and stakeholders and restore ecosystems.
Ballast Water Management Act, H.R. 2423, S. 1587, and Title V of H.R.
2830. These bills would establish a national ballast water management program and
national ballast water discharge standards.
Save Our Shores Act, H.R. 1091. This bill would amend the Harmful Algal
Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to extend the authorization
of appropriations to research, education, and monitoring activities related to the
prevention, reduction, and control of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, H.R. 1350. This bill would
establish a collaborative program to protect the Great Lakes from environmental
threats such as pollution and invasive species. The bill includes provisions for
developing clean water indicators, monitoring changes in the environment, and
promoting sustainable development. The bill would establish committees for
Conservation Alliance, Press Release April 23, 2007.
38 For the status and a more comprehensive account of legislation related to the oceans and
Great Lakes, see CRS Report RL33813, Fishery, Aquaculture, and Marine Mammalth
Legislation in the 110 Congress, by Eugene H. Buck.
coordination and oversight and would authorize funding. A similar bill, S. 791, has
been introduced in the Senate.
Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, S. 1581. This
bill would establish a federal program to conduct research and monitoring to examine
the processes and consequences of ocean acidification. A similar bill, H.R. 4174, has
been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Gulf of Mexico Restoration Protection Act, S. 1126. This bill would amend
the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reestablish the Program Office of the Gulf
of Mexico Program as an office of the Environmental Protection Agency. It would
require the office to coordinate actions with other agencies, develop action plans,
coordinate state and local restoration plans, implement outreach programs, and serve
as a liaison with Mexican counterparts.
Sanctuary Enhancement Act of 2008, H.R. 6537. This bill would reauthorize
the National Marine Sanctuary Act and strengthen and clarify management
authorities. Proposed changes include repealing the limitation on new sanctuary
designations, requiring the Secretary of Commerce to develop a site selection report
for potential new sanctuaries, and providing a mission statement for the National
Marine Sanctuary System.
Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act, H.R. 1205. This bill would
reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, expand the coral reef program
to address boat navigation around coral reefs, consider local community and non-
governmental organization involvement, require submission of a report to Congress
every three years, and establish the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. A similar bill, S.
Coastal Zone Enhancement Reauthorization Act, S. 1579. This bill would
amend the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 and declare that it is national
policy to create and use a national Estuarine Research Reserve System; and to
encourage innovative coastal management practices and coastal and estuarine
environmental technologies to improve long-term conservation. It would reauthorize
administrative grants for development of state coastal zone management programs.
National Ocean Exploration Program Act, H.R. 1834. This bill would
authorize a coordinated national ocean exploration program and the national undersea
research program within NOAA. The Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA
Act, S. 39, would create similar programs under Titles I and II.
Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act, H.R. 1907. This bill would
authorize the acquisition of land and interests in land from willing sellers to improve
the conservation of, and to enhance the ecological values and functions of, coastal
and estuarine areas. A similar bill, S. 1142, has been introduced in the Senate.
National Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation Act of 2007, H.R.
2342. This bill would establish a national integrated coastal and ocean observation
system composed of federal and non-federal components. It also authorizes basic
and applied research in coastal and ocean observation technologies, modeling
systems, and other capabilities to improve the understanding of climate change and
dynamics of the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.
Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, H.R. 2400. This bill would
direct the Administrator of the NOAA to establish an integrated federal ocean and
coastal mapping plan for the Great Lakes and coastal state waters, the territorial sea,
the exclusive economic zone, and the continental shelf of the United States. The
Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act, S. 39, would create a similar
program in Title III.
Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act, S. 950. This bill would develop
and maintain an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the Nation’s
coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes, to improve warning of tsunami, hurricanes, El Nino
events and other natural hazards, to enhance homeland security, to support maritime
operations, and to improve management of coastal and marine resources.
Buck, Eugene H., Ocean Commission Reports: Side-by-Side Comparison of
Provisions on Living Resources, Excluding Fisheries, CRS Congressional
Distribution Memorandum (September 30, 2004), 22 pp.
Buck, Eugene H., Ocean Commission Reports: Side-by-Side Comparison of Fishery
Provisions, CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum (October 4, 2004),
Gish, Ken, and Eric Laschever, “The President’s Ocean Commission: Progress
Toward a New Ocean Policy,” Natural Resources & Environment (Summer
National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Capitol Hill Oceans Week 2006, Summary
Report (June 13-14, 2006) [http://www.nmsfocean.org/chow2006/index.
Paul, Linda M. B., “The 2003 Pew Oceans Commission Report: Law, Policy, and
Governance,” Natural Resources & Environment (Summer 2004): 10-16.
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration, Discovering
Earth’s Final Frontier: A U.S. Strategy for Ocean Exploration (Washington,
DC: NOAA, October 10, 2000), 64 pp.
U.S. Dept. of Commerce and Dept. of the Navy, Oceans of Commerce, Oceans of
Life, Proceedings of the National Ocean Conference, June 11-12, 1998,
Monterey, CA (Washington, DC: NOAA, 1998), 241 pp.
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office
of the Chief Scientist, Year of the Ocean Discussion Papers, March 1998,
Prepared by the U.S. Federal Agencies with Ocean-Related Programs for the
International Year of the Ocean (Washington, DC: GPO, 1998), 1 vol.