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Progress from Asia-Pacific Oceans Meeting

U.S. Official Expects Progress from Asia-Pacific Oceans Meeting

Hazards warning, environmental protection, illegal fishing priority issues

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States looks forward to discussing a wide range of issues at the Second Ocean-Related Ministerial Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, says retired Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

Lautenbacher briefed reporters on U.S. policy priorities for the meeting, which will be held in Bali, Indonesia, September 16 and 17.

Officials from the 21 APEC member economies will assess progress toward goals that were laid out at the first such gathering, which took place in Seoul, South Korea, in 2002.

The Seoul meeting produced a joint declaration that established priorities for addressing environmental imperatives and ensuring sustainable ocean-related industries.

The Bali meeting, co-chaired by Indonesia and Canada, will focus on the theme, "Our Coasts, Our Ocean: An Action Plan for Sustainability." Participants will discuss measures to improve environmental protection and strengthen industries that affect oceans, such as fisheries, tourism, and energy.

"I'm delighted that we're continuing … to hold these meetings and to make progress in the areas of joint and mutual ocean management for the Pacific Ocean," Lautenbacher said.

The United States intends to discuss policy initiatives encompassed in the Bush administration's Ocean Action Plan, he said. President Bush submitted the plan to Congress in December 2004 in response to a comprehensive final report released in September 2004 by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

That commission had been established under the Oceans Act of 2000, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in August 2000. It was the first such initiative in the United States since the 1969 Stratton Commission, which led to the creation of NOAA.

President Bush appointed the 16-member commission in 2001, with retired Admiral James Watkins as chairman. The commission's final report, the result of a three-year study, called for a series of initiatives to strengthen and provide better coordination for U.S. policy toward oceans and coastlines, criticized commercial fishing practices, and decried poorly planned coastal development.

The Ocean Action Plan emphasizes the development of an earth observation system and promotion of sustainable resource use, including environmentally sound aquaculture practices, Lautenbacher said.

"These are internal priorities in the U.S. government," he said. "We intend to talk to our colleagues and partners around the Pacific about ways that we can work together in these areas."

HAZARD WARNING SYSTEMS A PRIORITY ISSUE

Lautenbacher said he expected that hazard warning systems would be on the minds of all participants at the meeting.

"[T]his is the first meeting of the APEC group since the [December 2004] tsunami event in the northern Indian Ocean," he noted.

The United States has been working hard to push a comprehensive global earth observing system through the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), according to Lautenbacher. GEO, an ad hoc intergovernmental organization established at the July 2003 Earth Observation Summit in Washington, seeks to improve collective efforts to gather global observation data.

"Most of the economies in APEC are members of the group, which now has a ten-year plan to create such a system (the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS)," Lautenbacher said. GEO "will be working to provide worldwide comprehensive coverage for tsunami warning as an initial start," he added.

Establishment of an all-hazards warning system is another U.S. priority, Lautenbacher said.

"Hurricane Katrina and the severe damage that was caused on the Gulf indicates the value of having a warning system," he said. "We believe that all nations should have the capability, access to data and information to provide timely warning to citizens so that you can minimize loss of property and save lives."

SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF THE FISHING INDUSTRY

Lautenbacher said the United States is interested in ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, including:

• Limiting the capacity of fisheries to match what the ocean can support.
• Improving fishing methods to reduce "by-catch" of other species, such as endangered sea turtles.
• Reducing or eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

"All of these things are involved in the ecosystem approaches to management," he said.

Lautenbacher said the United States would also look at working with APEC on environmentally sound aquaculture -- the business of cultivating marine food fish or shellfish. "It's a very important source of protein for the world today and certainly a large part of the United States' imports," he noted.

"We look forward to working with our friends in the APEC area to build more cooperative means of governing our oceans," he concluded.

The APEC member economies include: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China; Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

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