Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill (H.R. 4754) that significantly reduces funding for key ocean and coastal protection activities. The bill cuts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) fiscal year 2005 budget by 15 percent from current levels. The agency's oceans and fisheries programs bear the brunt of the reductions. For example, the bill cuts the National Ocean Service's budget by 31 percent.
The vote comes 11 weeks after the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released its preliminary report confirming scientific evidence that America's oceans are in severe decline. Today's vote is in direct conflict with the Commission's call for greater investments in ocean science, management and conservation to address threats to major ocean ecosystems and coastal communities.
"The House of Representatives slashed funding for critical conservation programs, disregarding the findings of both the U.S. Oceans Commission and the Pew Oceans Commission," said Ted Morton, Oceana's federal policy director. "Fishermen, marine scientists, environmentalists and other ocean policy experts, who don't often agree on major issues, almost universally recognize that increased investments to better manage our ocean waters, wildlife and habitats are essential. Unfortunately, the House failed to heed these common sense recommendations."
In April, 61 members of Congress sent a bi-partisan letter to the House Appropriations sub-committee urging adequate funding levels for high priority programs, such as coastal zone management, fisheries research and management, enforcement, national marine sanctuaries, coral reef conservation, and marine mammal protection.
"We are deeply disappointed that the House bill fails to boost investments for basic bycatch data," said Courtney Sakai, Oceana's Dirty Fishing campaign director. "Getting more eyes on the ocean to scientifically assess the problems of bycatch should drive gear improvements and better fishery management decisions. We hope the U.S. Senate will take a closer look at this and other important programs and increase funding levels."
Among the programs cut by the bill passed by the Appropriations Committee and the House of Representatives are:
* Fishery Observer Programs. The House bill cuts observer funding by $5 million from the current funding level of $20 million. Fishery observers are scientists who count and catalogue everything that is caught by working on-board alongside the fishermen at sea. It is widely accepted that fishery observers are the most effective way to document bycatch -- the non-targeted ocean life that is caught and often dumped overboard, dead or dying. This reduction could affect regional programs that are collecting data on New England and West Coast groundfish, Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic shrimp, and other commercial fisheries. Oceana is recommending that Congress provide more than $34.0 million for national and regional fishery observer programs in next year's budget.
* Cooperative Research. The bill passed today cuts funding for cooperative research from $19.9 million last year to $5.0 million. This program funds regional research to promote collaboration in data collection among scientists and fishermen. The data can help fishery managers make more informed fishery allocation and conservation decisions.
* National Marine Sanctuary Program. The bill significantly cuts the funding level by more than $20 million -- from $53.5 million to $30.0 million. NOAA uses this funding to manage the ecology and cultural legacy of America's 13 national marine sanctuaries.