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US House passes ocean bills to protect reefs, marine animals and ecosystems

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The US House passed a package of oceans bills included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would help conserve coral reefs, protect marine mammals and enable better understanding of marine ecosystems. 

The US House of Representatives passed a package of ocean protection bills. Photo Credit: Kaikea Nakachi/Earth Justice

“From warmer temperatures and acidification to non-point-source pollution,  trash, overfishing and beyond, our oceans are on an unsustainable pat  and desperately need our help to save them,” said US Rep. Ed Case (D-HI), who is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources with jurisdiction over federal ocean programs and the House Committee on Appropriations and of its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which oversees and funds many such programs. 

“Hawai’i’s oceans and coral reefs are in dire need of investment to sustain their future in the face of climate change,” said Suzanne Case, Chair of the  Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources. “The Ocean and Coral Reef Legislation will be a major boost to Hawaiʻi’s coral reef conservation program to help sustain Hawaiʻi’s reefs to protect our shorelines and support thriving fisheries, ecosystems and our economy.” 

The package includes a number of bills that Congressman Case helped draft, introduced and advance in the House Natural Resources Committee, including the Coral Reef Sustainability through Innovation Act and the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act.

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Overall, the package will help advance: 

  • Coral Reef Conservation: These titles reauthorize and amend the Coral Reef Conservation Act to better address climate change, ecosystem loss, disease outbreaks and other threats to corals. In addition, these titles establish new programs and funding opportunities for states and territories for coral research, conservation and restoration and authorize the Coral Reef Task Force and US Department of the Interior coral reef activities, with a focus on US insular areas. 
  • Ocean Science: To date, less than 5% of the ocean has been explored. Smart investments  in ocean research and technology will contribute to a greater knowledge of  the oceans and coastlines, and lay the groundwork for more growth and job creation in the attractive blue economy sector. This title directs existing ocean-focused interagency committees to coordinate overlapping data collection, align supercomputing and data storage efforts, develop cross-agency databases and support consistent archiving practices. This title also directs NOAA to create, maintain and regularly update a publicly available website that provides links and information about all resiliency grant programs administered by NOAA. 
  • Regional Ocean Partnerships (ROPs): These partnerships help coordinate interstate management. This provision authorizes federal support for these partnerships by directing the Secretary of Commerce to establish new Regional Ocean Partnerships on request from the governor of a coastal state. The provision authorizes $10.1 million for  Fiscal Year 2023, with increases each year through 2027, and it  authorizes $1 million for FY 2023 through FY 2027 for tribes and Indigenous communities to participate or engage with the partnerships. 
  • National Ocean Exploration: Provides statutory authority for the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration and Characterization Council and revises several programs at NOAA that support ocean and coastal mapping, hydrographic surveys and spatial data collection. 
  • Marine Mammals: This title updates and modernizes the highly successful Marine  Mammal Protection Act. It improves marine mammal science, creates “Marine Mammal  Health Monitoring and Analysis Platform to collect and report data about the death of marine mammals, promoting interdisciplinary research, facilitating communication and improving collaboration among scientists and observation networks. It also provides for new conservation and grant programs that harness technology to reduce ocean noise, monitor marine mammals and help vessels avoid them and improve technology for marine mammal conservation.  
  • Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Forced Labor: The US is the largest seafood importer in the world. Despite efforts to deny illegally and unethically harvested seafood access to US markets, nearly 11% of total US seafood imports in 2019 – worth $2.4 billion – were illegal or unreported fishing products. China is a major source of these fish products and a top country of concern for human rights violations in the seafood supply chain. This title strengthens laws surrounding illegal fishing/slave labor  provisions. 
  • Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force: This section updates the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force to provide assistance and recommendations to state and  tribal agencies for inspecting and decontaminating recreational vessels for the purposes of managing and controlling aquatic invasive species. 
  • NOAA Corps:  Makes updates to the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, building off Rep. Case’s bill enacted last Congress to strengthen the NOAA Commissioned Office Corps. It also provides authorities for the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations to acquire new hurricane hunter aircraft. 
  • Banning Shark Fin Sales: Since 1970, shark populations have declined by 70%, posing a major threat to ocean ecology and biodiversity. The fins from as many as 73 million sharks make it into the shark fin trade each year, with China having one of the largest markets. The US continues to contribute to the global shark fin trade even though a number of states, airlines, shipping companies and others have already banned it. The section  prohibits the domestic sale of shark fins and creates a violation penalty under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

A summary of the bill is available here.

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