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New Action to Protect & Preserve U.S. Shores & Oceans

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Council on Environmental Quality

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release
Thursday, September 2, 1999
(202) 456-7035


Extension of Federal Enforcement Zone in U.S. Coastal Waters Will Help Prevent Violations of Environmental, Customs, or Immigration Laws

Boston, MA - At an event today at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Vice President Al Gore announced new action by the United States to help protect and preserve our nation's coastal shores and precious oceans, helping ensure that future generations of American working families will enjoy a cleaner environment and safer streets.

Specifically, the Vice President announced that the United States is strengthening its ability to enforce environmental, customs and immigration laws at sea by expanding a critical enforcement zone to include waters within 24 nautical miles of the U.S. coast. A proclamation signed today by President Clinton formally extends the U.S. "contiguous zone" from 12 to 24 miles, doubling the area within which the Coast Guard and other federal authorities can board foreign vessels and take other actions to enforce U.S. law.

Under international law, a nation can claim a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from its coast, and a contiguous zone extending an additional 12 miles. Within the contiguous zone, a nation can act to prevent violations of its environmental, customs, fiscal, or immigration laws, or to apprehend vessels suspected of violating them.

Within the extended contiguous zone, the Coast Guard may now board and search a foreign vessel suspected of smuggling drugs, carrying illegal immigrants, polluting the ocean, or tampering with sunken ships or other underwater artifacts, without first obtaining permission from the country where the vessel is registered. Previously, such action could be taken only within 12 miles of the coast.

"With this new enforcement tool, we can better protect America's working families against drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and threats to our ocean environment," the Vice President said. "We are putting would-be smugglers and polluters on notice that we will do everything in our power to protect our waters and our shores."

The Vice President also received a report from the Cabinet with other recommendations for strengthening federal ocean policy for the 21st century. The Vice President announced the formation of a high-level task force to oversee implementation of the recommendations, which were called for by the President at the National Ocean Conference last year in Monterey.

The Cabinet report presented to the Vice President, entitled "Turning to the Sea: America's Ocean Future," outlines 148 recommendations in four areas: sustaining the economic benefits of the oceans, strengthening global security, protecting marine resources, and discovering the oceans.

Key recommendations include: creating new incentives to reduce overfishing; working with the Senate to ensure that the U.S. joins the Law of the Sea Convention as soon as possible; coordinating federal programs with local "smart growth" efforts in coastal communities; and expanding federal support for underwater exploration.

The Oceans Report Task Force announced by the Vice President will be co-chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality and the National Security Council. The group, which will include high-level representatives of agencies with responsibility for ocean affairs, will set priorities for implementing key recommendations in the Cabinet's report and will meet quarterly to review progress.

"Last year's Ocean Conference launched an important national dialogue on the future of our oceans - a resource as vital as they are vast," the Vice President said. "With this report, the Cabinet has elevated this dialogue to the next level, and set the stage for a truly comprehensive ocean policy for the 21st century. I commend the Cabinet for its vital contribution, and I urge the task force to move swiftly on its recommendations.

" In addition, the Vice President announced $5 million in relief funds for New England fishermen hurt by the closure of declining fisheries; a $300,000 pilot program to enlist commercial fishermen in research efforts at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California; and the release of satellite images from NASA allowing scientists to track toxic algal blooms in the ocean. The Vice President also called on Congress to approve the Administration's Lands Legacy initiative, which includes $183 million to protect ocean and coastal resources.

"Today we take further action to protect our shores and preserve our precious oceans for our children and grandchildren," the Vice President said. "From small fishing villages on the New England coast to communities across America that rely on food from the sea, we are all linked to the oceans. We must protect them for our families and for our future."

The Vice President also:

- Called on Congress to approve the Administration's Lands Legacy initiative, which includes $183 million to protect ocean and coastal resources in fiscal year 2000, including $29 million for national marine sanctuaries, $25 million to acquire and protect critical fish habitat, and $10.3 million to protect and restore fragile coral reefs.

- Announced approval by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of a final plan for distributing $5 million in disaster relief for New England fishermen suffering economic losses in 1999 from the closure of declining cod fisheries in the Gulf of Maine. To qualify for the funds - up to $1,500 for each lost day-at-sea - fishermen must agree to participate in fisheries-related research in the next two years.

- Announced NASA's release of satellite images that provide scientists for the first time with a record of biological productivity across the entire globe. The images, recorded over the past two years, are helping researchers gain a better understanding of ecosystems and biological processes in the sea, including the waxing and waning of toxic algal blooms that threaten marine life and public health in coastal waters.

- Announced a three-year $300,000 pilot program that will train and employ commercial fishermen in research efforts at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California. Participating fishermen will gather data to characterize and help protect the sanctuary. NOAA will evaluate the program for possible expansion to other marine sanctuaries.

The Cabinet report, "Turning to the Sea: America's Ocean Future," can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov.

Click here for a summary of the recommendations contained in the Oceans Report.

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New Action to Protect & Preserve U.S. Shores & Oceans

An Ocean Policy for the 21st Century