OCEANA * NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL * THE OCEAN CONSERVANCY * FRIENDS OF THE EARTH * DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE * EARTHJUSTICE
November 24, 2004
The Honorable George W. Bush
Office of the President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President: We are writing to urge you to remember America’s oceans when you make your selection of a new Secretary of Commerce. Although it is not widely recognized, the Department of Commerce is the home of the agency with major responsibility for understanding, managing, and protecting our oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In fact, NOAA represents 60 percent of the Department’s budget and approximately one-third of its staff. Because the Secretary of Commerce is the nation’s highest ranking official with responsibility for oceans and their living resources, it is vital that your designee be someone who is both knowledgeable about oceans and committed to restoring their vitality.
As you are aware, your Commission on Ocean Policy has recently documented the threats and risks faced by our oceans. Your selection of a Commerce Secretary committed to following through on the U.S. Commission’s recommendations would send a powerful signal to the nation—and the world—about your commitment to ensuring healthy oceans for generations to come. As James Connaughton, head of your Council on Environmental Quality has said, “there's a massive bipartisan and regional consensus toward embarking on a new generation of progress." We urge you to take that action now, in the selection of your new Secretary.
Here are a few of the major ocean issues facing the next Secretary of Commerce:
• A recent study published in Nature showed that ninety percent of the big fish in the world’s oceans have disappeared in the last 50 years. The marlins, swordfish, tunas and other big predators are like the lions and tigers of the deep. They have nearly been eliminated.
• One third of the U.S. fisheries are overfished, according to the government’s own standards and a majority of these already overfished fisheries continue to be fished unsustainably.
• Scientists estimate that 25 percent of the commercial fish catch is actually bycatch of marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, coral, and non-targeted fish, which is discarded back in to the ocean. Many of the animals are returned injured, dying, or dead.
• There are less than 400 northern right whales left in the world – a creature that was once so abundant that it was the primary target of the world’s whaling fleets.
• Mercury contamination of tuna and other fish has gotten so serious that the Food and Drug Administration officially warns pregnant women to avoid eating more than a small amount. Yet most mothers have never gotten the warning, so, sadly, one sixth of the child-bearing women in the USA are estimated to have levels of mercury in their blood that are toxic to their developing babies.
• Dolphins and other sea mammals have washed ashore, dead, with levels of PCBs and other contaminants that would qualify them as hazardous waste under EPA regulations.
Reports of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Pew Oceans Commission, and leading marine scientists conclude that our ocean waters, wildlife and habitats are in need of immediate, comprehensive action to restore them to health. We urge you, Mr. President, to select a strong champion for our oceans as the next Secretary of Commerce. Thank you for your consideration.
Andrew F. Sharpless
Chief Executive Officer
Natural Resources Defense Council
Vice Admiral Roger T. Rufe, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.)
The Ocean Conservancy
Friends of the Earth
Defenders of Wildlife