Two Groups Fault National Ocean Policy

Leaders of two expert commissions that spent years examining the nation's ocean policies give the Congress, Bush administration and governors a near-failing grade for not moving quickly enough to address hundreds of their recommendations.

The presidential commission chaired by James Watkins, a retired Navy admiral and former energy Secretary, recommended in September 2004 creating a new trust fund, boosting research, improving fisheries management and consolidating federal oversight among 212 recommendations in its 610-page final report, the first federal review of ocean policy in 35 years.

The privately funded Pew Oceans Commission chaired by Leon Panetta, former President Clinton's White House chief of staff, reached many of the same conclusions a year earlier.

Now, members of the former commissions have joined forces, saying the government's "D+" effort so far could imperil the oceans' health and abundance if the problems are left untended much longer.

"We're hopeful that 2006 is going to be a banner year for ocean policy reform," Watkins said Thursday. "The crisis now is to prevent an irreversible situation five to seven years from now, that will grow exponentially if we don't get on these things."

Panetta agreed: "We're unified in saying to the administration and the Congress, 'We've got to wake up and deal with this crisis facing our oceans.' "

President Bush released an ocean action plan in December 2004 that included creation of a White House committee to oversee ocean policies and a proposal to cut air pollution from marine vessels in U.S. and foreign waters.

Lawmakers introduced bills to adopt various commission recommendations, such as reauthorizing the primary federal law governing fisheries management and making the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration an agency separate from the Commerce Department.