Monday, February 5, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 5, 2001

Ocean group to gather on Maui

By Susan Roth
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — This week, the first research meeting of the new Pew Oceans Commission, a private group examining threats to fish and other marine wildlife, will be held on Maui.

Leon Panetta, who heads the new Pew Oceans Commission, said Hawai'i has many marine problems.

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The group, which includes high-profile politicians, scientists, environmentalists, fishermen and corporate executives, plans to meet with counterparts in Hawai
i as well as the general public Wednesday to Friday to gather information on marine problems facing the Islands.

"When you look at the various issues that we’re considering as a commission, Hawaii is confronting every one of those issues in a major way," said Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff who is heading the commission.

"We’re looking at pollution, problems of increasing nitrogen and the impacts of the destruction of fisheries, overfishing and climate change, as well as the whole problem of invasive species brought by tanker traffic," Panetta said.

"Because Hawaii’s economy is also dependent on the ocean that surrounds it, it’s a perfect setting to begin to talk about how they’re confronting these problems and how we can recommend better policies.

"We want to get as much information as we can about the nature of the problems so that we can understand them. One of the real challenges to the commission is how can we better coordinate policies at the federal level, but also at the state level."

Formed last May by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the commission grew out of a 1999 Monterey, Calif., conference where scientists and politicians, including then-Vice President Al Gore, cited a need to re-examine the nation’s ocean management policies and problems.

Recommendations of a public oceans commission established in the late 1960s led to the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies that deal with ocean issues. Advocates believed they would have a hard time getting congressional approval of a new public commission, so Pew created its own.

Last year, Congress did create an oceans commission however. Panetta said he is trying to ensure that the two commissions work in tandem. The public group has a broader charge, dealing with such issues as oil and gas drilling, transportation and coastal development, while the Pew commission will primarily focus on fish and wildlife.

Later this year, the 20-member Pew commission plans to gather more information at meetings in Charleston, S.C.; Rockport, Maine; and Anchorage, Alaska; as well as sites on the Gulf of Mexico. Early next year, the commission is to submit a report of its findings and recommendations to Congress.

The public is invited to talk with the commission from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Renaissance Wailea Hotel.

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