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Ocean Commissions: Ocean Policy Review and Outlook

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Publication Date: April 2008

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33603

Topic: Environment (Ocean and ocean resources)


The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-454) stated U.S. marine policy objectives, created a National Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development, and set up a presidential Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources (called the Stratton Commission after its chairman, Dr. Julius Stratton). The commission's 1969 final report, Our Nation and the Sea: A Plan for National Action, contained recommendations that led to reorganizing federal ocean programs by establishing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), beginning new ocean programs, and strengthening existing ones. By the late 1980s, however, a number of influential voices among the executive, congressional, and public sectors had concluded that ocean management by the United States remained fragmented and characterized by a confusing array of laws, regulations, and practices at the federal, state, and local levels. Moreover, it seemed that various agencies charged with implementing and enforcing legal regimes had mandates that often conflicted, with no mechanism for coordinating a common vision and objectives. Support coalesced around the need for a congressional mandate to establish a National Oceans Policy Commission, sometimes called a Stratton II Commission, guided by four principles: sustaining the economic benefits of the oceans; strengthening global security; exploring and understanding the oceans; and preserving and protecting ocean resources while encouraging their enlightened use. Legislation to create such a commission was considered in the 98th, 99th, 100th, and 105th Congresses, but it was not until the 106th Congress in 2000 that legislation was finally enacted to establish a U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (P.L. 106-256). Earlier in 2000, the Pew Oceans Commission, an independent group, was established and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct a national dialogue on the policies needed to restore and protect living marine resources in U.S. waters.

The Pew Commission released its final report in June 2003, America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, outlining a national agenda for protecting and restoring our oceans. Meanwhile, after hearing from 440 presenters in 10 cities over 11 months, the U.S. Commission published its report in two stages. First, in April 2004, the commission released a Preliminary Report for review and comment by the nation's governors and interested stakeholders. After considering and incorporating reviewers' comments, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, the final report with 212 recommendations on a coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy, was delivered to the President and Congress on September 20, 2004. On December 17, 2004, the President submitted to Congress the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, his formal response to the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. In considering legislative responses to the findings and recommendations of those two ocean policy reports, and the President's response, the Congress is addressing specific legislation relating to ocean exploration; ocean and coastal observing systems; marine debris research, prevention, and reduction; federal organization and administrative structure; and ocean and coastal mapping integration. Comprehensive bills encompassing a broad array of crosscutting concerns also are under consideration. This report replaces CRS Issue Brief IB10132.