Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Ocean Forum on the US Commission on Ocean Policy Report
May 13, 2004

Thank you, Bill Aarntz, for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here.

I’d like to welcome Bill Ruckelshaus and Marc Hershman. Thank you for the time you have committed to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. This has been a substantial commitment, but a great service to our nation and to the future of our oceans.

The last comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policy took place more than 30 years ago. That’s when a governmental panel, the Stratton Commission, issued its report Our Nation and the Sea. This report led to significant changes in ocean policy. It also prompted the creation of such institutions as the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA

Our region has a proud history of leadership on ocean issues. The cornerstone of this leadership is the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Prior to the release of the Stratton report in 1969, ocean fisheries were largely unregulated. But in 1976, our own Senator Warren Magnuson provided the critical leadership to pass what became known as the Magnuson Act. Today, with subsequent changes by Alaska’s Senator Ted Stevens, the Magnuson-Stevens act provides the structure for the management of our nation’s fishery resources.

With the creation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in 2000, Congress and the President acknowledged the value and importance of the oceans to our nation.

The Commission was directed to produce findings and recommendations for a new comprehensive national ocean policy.

We are here today for several reasons.

First, when Congress created the Commission, it directed that there should be a strong role for governors. That’s why the preliminary report was sent to all the governors for comment. Because Washington is an important coastal state, our comments will be especially important for the final report.

Second, the ocean is critically important to our state—economically and ecologically. The recommendations in the report could have a significant impact on us. It’s extremely important that we in Washington State actively engage with the Commission. It’s essential that we provide input that will benefit our state and our relationship with the sea.

Finally, the preliminary report contains many innovative recommendations. We will be commenting on them from the perspective of how they will affect our state. And we will also be reviewing the recommendations for actions that we can take regardless of the outcome at the national level. And we want our comments to the Commission to reflect the interests of the people of Washington State. There are many problems in our oceans today that require an urgent response and determined leadership.

These problems include pollution from land sources, oil spills, overfishing, coastal development, and the consequences of our lack of understanding of the complexity of the ocean ecosystem. Many of these problems have their corollary right here in Puget Sound and off our coast.

As the report indicates, the oversupply of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients on coastal ecosystems is one of our nations most widespread pollution problems. Runoff from agricultural land, animal feeding operations and urban areas, along with discharges from wastewater treatment plants, storm sewers and leaky septic systems add nutrients to the waters that eventually get to the sea.

We can see this today in our own Puget Sound. A recent study of Hood Canal found that nutrient pollution from a variety of sources is creating “dead zone” in the Canal. At the top of the list was human sewage from failing septic systems, which contribute about 60% of the nitrogen humans deliver to the Canal.

Experts estimate that 25 to 30 percent of the world’s major fish stocks are overexploited, and a recent report indicates that U.S. fisheries are experiencing similar difficulties. Of our nation’s 259 major fish stocks – representing 99 percent of total commercial landings – roughly 25 percent are either already overfished or experiencing overfishing. The same report indicates that the status of 650 other fish stocks – most of which are not subject to commercial fishing pressure – is unknown, limiting both our understanding of the overall state of the nation’s fisheries and of their role in the marine ecosystem.

Declining fish populations are the result of overfishing, the unintentional removal of non-targeted species (known as bycatch), habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and uneven management. As fishing boats find fewer and fewer fish to catch, they tend to fish deeper in the water, harvesting fish further down the “food web”. This seriously compromises the integrity of marine ecosystems, the ecological services they provide, and the resources upon which Americans rely.

In Puget Sound, Rockfish abundance has declined markedly from levels seen in the 1970s, and most critically the spawning potential of rockfish has declined by about 75 percent from the levels observed in the 1970s.

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared the entire West Coast groundfish fishery a “disaster”. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) imposed major reductions in the groundfish catch in federal waters beyond three miles of the coastline.

That same year, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission took prohibited bottom trawling within three miles of the coast and adopted several new restrictions on the harvest of groundfish in Puget Sound.

More than 200 species of marine fish live their entire lives in the waters of Puget Sound, our coastal bays, or in the near ocean. Our bays and estuaries support a rich diversity of marine life. Migratory marine species such as tuna, shark and gray whales travel off our coast.

When we speak of the ocean we must remember that Puget Sound is an extension of the Pacific Ocean. More than 10,000 streams and rivers drain into Puget Sound, along nearly 2,500 miles of shoreline. This mosaic of beaches, bluffs, deltas, mudflats and wetlands hold the promise and potential of this region, its natural resources and the industries, tourism and recreation these resources support.

Our improvements in watersheds and nearshore habitats, combined with improved ocean conditions, have led to record numbers of wild salmon finally returning to our waters.

Volunteers in our state are actively engaged in stream restoration projects in local watersheds. These efforts total more than 250,000 volunteer hours since 2000.

These restoration projects are yielding results. Nearly 11,000 acres of salmon habitat have been acquired since 1999. More than 1100 fish passage barriers have been removed and 1300 miles of stream opened to salmon. But habitat improvements on land and within watersheds will have little benefit unless we have healthy oceans.

In the most recent figures from the 1999-2001 biennium, non-tribal commercial fishers landed a total of 108.8 million pounds of marine fish in Washington ports. This fish has a value of $27.6 million. Commercial fisheries on the coast and in Puget Sound accounted for about 93% of all marine fish landings.

Commercial shellfish landings, excluding tribal and recreational landings, commanded a price of $77.3 million in the 1999-2001 biennium.

Recreational fishermen and divers make a significant economic contribution to the state and coastal communities. Commercial and recreational fishers have a vital interest in healthy oceans. In the 1999-2001 period, recreational fishers made more than 1.6 million trips to catch marine fish. This generated substantial business for coastal merchants during the off-season for other fisheries. And coastal communities which depend on these activities for their economic livelihood all depend on the health of the ocean.

The preliminary report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is an important document for our state. This wide-ranging report covers many issues critical to the biologic and economic health of our region.

There are many recommendations that are supportive of Washington interests. I would like to mention a few.

The commission recommends a new national ocean policy framework. I strongly support the creation of regional ocean councils to identify issues and opportunities for action on ocean issues. Such regional councils would allow states—and in our case possibly even Canada—to work together.

Science forms an important foundation for decisions on fisheries and ocean policy. That’s why I also support the recommendation to strengthen science with a significant investment in an adequate infrastructure for data collection and management. This needed investment includes the ability to effectively translate scientific findings into useful information for policy makers, managers, educators, and the public. High quality, accessible information is critical to making wise decisions. We in the North pacific fortunately do rely on the scientists in fishery decisions.

And I support environmental and ocean education. Students in all of our nation’s schools should be taught about the oceans and their connections to the entire earth and to people and society.

The commission report also recommends that coastal decision makers be given more capacity to plan for and guide growth away from sensitive and hazard prone shoreline areas. In Washington we have this in place with our Shoreline Management Act and our Growth Management Act

And on the issue of governance, the commission recommends that national standards be established for areas such as ballast water, cruiseships, and fisheries management. I wholeheartedly support national standards in these areas. But I also urge the commission to consider allowing states to work together to develop standards that are more suited to the region, using the national standard as the minimum standard. I propose that the commission acknowledge such variations from a national standard.

The regulatory structure for marine issues should be a hierarchy of international protocols followed by national standards. But we cannot give up our authority and ability to protect the waters and shoreline of our state. If there are gaps in international protocols and national standards, we must be able to address those gaps to protect our interests.

The preliminary report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is an important document in the protection of our ocean resources. While governors have been asked to comment on the report, I want my comments to reflect the various interests and views of our residents.

We will not shy away from identifying the problems, nor will we shirk our responsibilities for implementing solutions. Your comments will be a valuable part of this process.

I look forward to hearing the various perspectives expressed here today. And I thank you for participating in this critical step in making sure our oceans are protected.

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