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On Saturday, January 21st, the Oceans Caucus Foundation hosted a luncheon to acknowledge the vital role of the U.S. Congressional Oceans Caucus leadership in addressing pirate fishing and present an agenda for the Caucus going forward in the 115th Congress.

Oceans Caucus Co-Chairs Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Don Young (R-AK) both spoke about their priorities for the Senate and House Oceans Caucus, namely the enforcement of new laws against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, addressing marine debris, and ensuring that sustainable fish protein is a resource for global food security, issues which both agree can be dealt with in a bipartisan fashion.

Ocean conservation is not only an environmental issue; rather, it has direct impacts on economic and national security and must remain a priority on both sides of the aisle in the 115th Congress. In the 114th Congress, thanks to the leadership of the Oceans Caucus, the Senate ratified four international fishing treaties and both houses unanimously passed implementing legislation (H.R. 774) addressing measures outlined in the Port States Measures Agreement. The fight to reign in IUU fishing continues for the new Congress, as lawmakers must ensure that necessary agencies have the funding and authorization needed to effectively enforce these new measures. On the global stage, the U.S. must continue to play a leading role to support its treaty partners to enforce similar measures in their own waters.

Sustainable, legal fishing plays an important role in domestic and global food security. “We have some challenges, because, in fact, the globe is changing with the number of people we have that have need for food, and we don’t recognize it. How many people are starving? Which comes first in that case? The animal that needs that food or the animal that provides the food for the people? How do we solve that problem? That’s going to be the biggest challenge. Can we keep our wildlife and still feed the people? That’s what we have to work on,” said Congressman Young. 

Like illegal fishing, marine debris poses a serious threat to the long-term sustainability of our ocean resources. Researchers have a better understanding of the sources of marine debris and now know that a significant portion of the problem originates on land. Developing countries find it difficult to keep up waste management services with rising populations and increased consumption, and even in the U.S., where over 85 percent of the population has access to curb-side or drop-off recycling programs, only about a third of recyclable materials are being recycled. Nonpartisan, innovative, market-oriented solutions are needed to better utilize and improve waste management structures in place around the world. Real work on the issue has already begun.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and his fellow co-chairs in the Senate -- Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) -- have identified marine debris as a priority in the 115th Congress. “Now we’re working on marine debris,” said Senator Whitehouse on Saturday. “We’re now at the stage in the legislative process where there is a bill. It hasn’t been dropped yet, but language is being exchanged between offices. It’s not just conceptual. It’s not just, ‘gee, this is something we should work on;’ the work has begun.”

The Oceans Caucus Foundation is looking forward to what is certain to be a productive 115th Congress and remains committed to bringing together government and the private sector from both ends of the political spectrum to ensure that ocean conservation and marine resource management remain policy priorities going forward.

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