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Aquaculture Relief Measure, NOAA Budget Considerations, Maritime Reform Bill Busies Senate

On August 11, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a bill designed to promote alternatives for the overburdened domestic fishing industry, and to encourage the development of an environmentally sound marine aquaculture industry in the U.S. The measure, called the Marine Aquaculture Act of1995, encourages investment in the area of marine aquaculture (the farming of fish and shellfish in ocean and coastal waters) in order to stimulate local economies, bring new jobs, and help restore wild fish stocks.

According to Sen. Kerry, "....the fishing industry is in decline, suffering from depleted stocks and overfishing... Clearly we need to find long-term solutions that will provide long-term results — new jobs, new resources, a new means of sustaining the global fishing industry...A strong marine aquaculture industry would provide high quality fish and seafood products for American consumption and export, and help reduce our multibillion dollar fisheries trade deficit." The bill would require the Department of Commerce to act as the single agency responsible for regulating the distribution of permits for owning, constructing, and operating offshore marine aquaculture facilities in federal waters; for creating a coastal and marine aquaculture R&D program through the Sea Grant Program; and for providing open financial assistance programs, formerly reserved for fishermen, to marine aquaculture development. The measure would also require the Secretary of Commerce to establish environmental standards for offshore marine aquaculture facilities.

Battling Budget Constraints The proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — mandating the termination of HF radiofacsimile weatherchart broadcasts, and consequently affecting the safety of mariners who rely on such broadcasts for oceanographic data — is currently under examination in Congress.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Act of 1995, S. 1142, the piece of legislation responsible for setting the NOAA budget through 1998, was introduced in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in August of 1994. If passed, S. 1142 will authorize appropriations in the amounts of $1.84 billion for FY 1996, $2.02 billion for FY 1997, and $2.03 billion for FY 1998.

The NOAA's operations include atmospheric and satellite programs, ocean and coastal programs, and marine fisheries programs. Budget debate has been intensified by the terms of the proposed budget that call for eliminating several National Weather Service (NWS) HF radiofax transmitters — specifically, transmitters located in Marshfield, Mass.; Pt. Reyes, Calif.; Kodiak, Alaska; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Rogers City, Mich — that supply commercial fishermen with weather charts, as well as other oceanographic data on which they base their catch. The elimination of this information source poses a threat to members of the U.S. commercial fishing industry, many of whom have come to rely on this data for determining fishing strat- egies in domestic waters.

Senator Olympia Snowe (RMaine) has introduced an amendment to these terms regarding closure certification criteria for NWS offices, which has been approved by the Commerce, Science and Transporation Committee. The Snowe amendment adds the criterion of looking at the possible impacts of closures of older Weather Service offices on rural communities. Maritime Security Program Headlines Reform Efforts On August 9,1995, S.B. 1139, the Maritime Reform and Security Act of 1995, was introduced by Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.). It is designed to establish a Maritime Security Program (MSP) which would retain an active, privately-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-crewed vessel presence in U.S. foreign commerce, as well as provide for sealift capabilities in time of national emergency. The terms of the MSP program include the allotment of $100 million per year for 10 years, for the support of approximately 47 ships, with each vessel receiving $2 million annually. This bill also terminates the existing operating-differential subsidy program, removes existing operating restrictions on participating U.S. flag vessel operators, and reforms the Title XI loan guarantee program. Another maritime measure, S. 810, the Coastal Barrier Resources System Fairness Act, introduced on May 16,1995, by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) and Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), received attention at a recent Senate committee meeting. The bill mandates that the Secretary of the Interior remove from the Coastal Barrier Resources System a tract of land in South Carolina that was added to the system without notice to the county in which it is located.

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