Governor creates ocean-policy position

Action comes after Bush puts together White House panel, adviser on federal ocean policy

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2004

Gov. Frank Murkowski created a new position in state government Friday - an ocean policy coordinator - to protect Alaska's interests when Congress attempts to hash out a new U.S. ocean policy in 2005.

Murkowski created the job by administrative order hours after President Bush created a new White House committee and special adviser on federal ocean policy.

The state's new coordinator likely will be hired by February and housed within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The coordinator will receive direction from Murkowski and his little-known Ocean Policy Cabinet, comprising five state commissioners and the Alaska director of state and federal relations in Washington, D.C.

"We envision a national oceans policy that acknowledges the jurisdictions of the states. ... But we can't just sit back and hope that is the final outcome," Murkowski said Friday.

The state and federal actions were prompted by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's 212 recommendations to avert a national crisis in the nation's marine areas. At least 23 percent of the nation's coastal waters is closed to swimming and fishing or cannot support marine species.

Murkowski said the ocean policy coordinator will track the planned reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation's most significant fishing law.

Dorothy Childers, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said she hopes the governor will work to preserve the original act's "strong conservation mandate" and protect opportunities for the state's entry-level fishermen.

"Access to fisheries has become consolidated in fewer and fewer hands," Childers said.

"Magnuson-Stevens is going to be a huge topic," added Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. Kelley was pleased that Murkowski is "adding back staff" to monitor federal fish policy.

"These are incredibly dense issues and it takes a lot of effort to wade through them," Kelley said.

The Ocean Policy Commission issued sweeping recommendations in September, such as:

• Expanding research on marine mammals.

• More protection for cold-water and tropical corals.

• Instituting ecosystem-based management for fisheries.

• Expanding the regulatory authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Congress likely will act on many of those recommendations in 2005. The Bush administration also is moving forward with dozens of actions "on a near-term time basis," James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told The Associated Press.

The commission advised the president to create new councils and advisers within the White House and build a $4 billion government trust fund to pay for new ocean initiatives.

Bush has not agreed to the trust fund.

Commission Chairman James Watkins has predicted the trust fund would be a tough sell politically. At a time when Bush is trying to rein in spending, it would mean diverting about four-fifths of the $5 billion in royalty and other payments that go to the Treasury annually from offshore oil and gas drilling, The Associated Press reported.

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The trust fund is one of many recommendations by the commission that would need congressional approval because it involves changing the law.

Bush is pitching some of his own recommendations, such as reducing air pollution from marine vessels, both nationally and internationally.

The Bush administration gave its support to increased use of individual fishing quotas, in which fishermen can buy shares in a total harvest.

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