Ocean group seeks to spread Alaska successes elsewhere

Oceana to pressure rest of coastal U.S. to adopt high standards

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005

The leaders of Oceana, an international environmental group meeting in Juneau this week, said Tuesday they will put pressure on the rest of the coastal United States, Chile and Europe to adopt Alaska's high standards for protecting marine species.

The group, which operates its Pacific Region office out of Juneau, is having its first-ever Juneau board meeting today, where it plans to discuss progress on its environmental initiatives as well as Oceana's 2006 budget.

Oceana board members said Tuesday they have three major initiatives - to stop deep-sea trawlers from destroying ocean-floor habitat, eliminate industrial discharges of mercury that contaminate seafood and stop ocean bycatch by fishing fleets.

Oceana won a compromise with fisheries managers and the trawling industry in 2005 to prevent trawling in nearly 400,000 square miles in the Aleutian Island chain and nearly 300,000 square miles along the California, Oregon and Washington coastlines.

"We're carrying the precedent around to the other coasts," said Andrew Sharpless, Oceana's chief executive officer.

"There are six more (U.S. fishery management) councils that need to get with the action," Sharpless said.

Oceana also hopes to convince Congress to increase funding for the federal fisheries observer program, which puts industry-paid observers on fishing boats to monitor their fishing practices. So far, that program is unique to Alaska and Oceana plans to lobby to expand it to the rest of the coastal United States, board members said.

Though Oceana's initiatives have aroused some opposition from Alaska's groundfish industry, "we're actually pro-fishing," said Herbert Bedolfe, chairman of Oceana's board.

Bedolfe said Oceana's efforts will preserve vibrant fisheries and fishing communities for another 100 years.

The group is also attempting to convince Chilean leaders to halt the growth of salmon farms in their country until they resolve a litany of environmental problems within the industry, Sharpless said.

Oceana runs an regional office in Chile with about 10 staff members.

Oceana's Pacific regional director Jim Ayers said Tuesday he is also watching congressional efforts to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation's primary fishing law.

The Bush administration is trying to eliminate requirements that federal actions on fisheries comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, said Ayers, a chief of staff for former Gov. Tony Knowles.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, met with Oceana leaders before lunch Tuesday and strongly encouraged them to pay attention to reauthorization of the fisheries act. He said some are trying to gut the law's environmental requirements under NEPA and allow more control over fishing quotas by seafood processors, which he likened to "seagoing sharecroppers."

NEPA was the primary outlet that Oceana used to participate in the decision-making process for protecting corals and sponges in the Aleutians, Ayers said.

"If we were to lose these opportunities, it would be a big loss for Alaskans," Ayers said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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