Salmon: ‘alarm bell’ for oceans rings in Washington


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The decision to shut down California salmon fishing for a second consecutive year is bad news for commercial fishermen and cedar-plank barbecuers. It is also, in the words of Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard, “an alarm bell happening in the ocean.”

“For too long,” Packard said in an interview, “we’ve been taking oceans for granted and been viewing them as an endless source of resources for us.”

Packard is a member of the Joint Ocean Commission, a bipartisan group that descended on Washington this week to lobby the Obama administration on federal efforts to restore fish, plants and entire ocean ecosystems. Their efforts coincided with the vote in California to close the salmon fishery.

At the center of the commission’s recommendations, which it outlined in a report this week, is a $1.7-billion effort to protect, revitalize and research ocean life -- coupled with a call for federal action to combat climate change, which the group tags as oceans’ biggest threat.

The specifics include establishing a national oceans policy, expanding federal power to regulate water quality and coastal health, and pushing the Senate to ratify the international Law of the Sea convention, which includes marine-life protections.


They also include a price tag on the importance of oceans to the U.S. economy: “Ocean-dependent industries,” the report says, “generate approximately $138 billion for the United States every year, 2.5 times more than the agriculture industry.” Coastal leisure, hospitality, trade, transportation and utilities added an additional $1.3 trillion.

“We need to build up ocean science research and management,” said Paul Kelly, a member of the oceans commission and president of the nonprofit Gulf of Mexico Foundation, “because they’re going to be key drivers of all the issues related to energy, the economy and the environment.”

The Obama administration sees plenty of economic potential in the sea. The Interior Department has touted ocean-based sources of renewable energy in recent days, including a report last week that estimated that offshore wind turbines could potentially -- emphasis on potentially -- supply more than enough power to meet the nation’s entire electricity demand.

The administration is also stocked with several members of the ocean commission, including CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and Jane Lubchenco, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which regulates fisheries.

-- Jim Tankersley