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Figure 1: Coastal conditions in the United States

Source: EPA 2004a

Both Canada and the United States addressed ocean-related issues in 2004.

The last comprehensive US report on oceans, in 1969, noted a wealth of marine resources and suggested increasing their exploitation (Stratton Commission 1969). Since then, poorly coordinated ocean management has led to an alarming deterioration of conditions. Between 2001 and 2004, there were only slight improvements in the country's six coastal regions (Figure 1). In a new report released in April 2004 by the US Commission on Ocean Policy, the Commission's chairman noted that "In the United States, we have already depleted some of our major fishery resources, lost treasured recreational areas, and damaged wetlands that help keep our water clean. In many cases we have paid dearly with lost jobs, degraded water quality, increased health care costs, and decreased revenue" (Watkins 2004).

The Commission recommended changes in three major areas:

  • Creating a new national ocean policy framework to improve decision-making;
  • Strengthening science and generating high quality, accessible information to inform decision makers; and
  • Enhancing ocean education to promote a stewardship ethic (US Commission on Ocean Policy 2004).

In response to this report, the US President created a new committee on Ocean Policy in December.

Coastal waters in the US are increasingly subject to low oxygen conditions called 'dead zones' where most marine life cannot survive and reproduce. The Gulf of Mexico, which provides about 18 per cent of the US annual fish catch, is subject to an expanding dead zone that is larger than the state of New Jersey. The main cause is thought to be excess nutrients from fertilizer runoff transported by the Mississippi River, mainly from the Corn Belt (Larsen 2004). A new dead zone off the central Oregon Coast appeared in 2004 for the second time in three years, leading scientists to suspect that a fundamental change in ocean conditions is occurring in the North Pacific Ocean (Stauth 2004).

Innovative programmes are helping to reduce excess fertilizer use and runoff into the ocean. Test programmes run by the American Farmland Trust's 'Nutrient Best Management Practices' achieved declines in fertilizer use of up to 25 per cent (Larsen 2004).

Canada established its own Ocean Strategy in 2002 to overcome governance problems similar to those in the United States. A complex web of laws, regulations and different levels of government had led to deteriorating conditions (Government of Canada 2002). Canada continues to protect cod stocks since their collapse a decade ago. Three more cod fisheries were closed in April 2004, following a decline in stock abundance and numbers of spawning adults, as well as high mortality and low production of juveniles.

In May, officials reported that the entire cod fishery could be eliminated within three to five years if foreign trawlers continue to exploit areas of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in defiance of an international moratorium (DFO 2004a). After Canada increased inspections, the number of foreign boats fishing off the Grand Banks decreased to 66 between May and August 2004, compared to 93 during the same months in 2003. The action is part of a new federal strategy against overfishing (DFO 2004b).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced several policy measures in April. These included:

  • An investment of circa US$37 million over two years in community-based economic development assistance;
  • Increased conservation measures, including seal exclusion zones and no-trawling zones; and
  • A two-year programme of about US$5 million to expand scientific research to evaluate and assess the impact of seals on fish stocks (CNLBSC 2004).

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