Ocean conservation worth support

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In what may be a pre-election gambit that is nevertheless praiseworthy, President Bush has called for a worldwide drive to eliminate or better regulate the most destructive fishing practices.

Bottom trawling is “like clear-cutting the forest to catch a squirrel,” according to a leader of the non-partisan private Pew Charitable Trusts’ environment program. Russia, Spain and Iceland are among the nations that want to continue bottom trawling as the United Nations begins negotiations on the subject.

Russia, in particular, has a lasting bad reputation on this coast from the days when its boats used to snap up everything that wasn’t tied down just offshore. The attitudes exhibited in the old Soviet days are still in evidence today, except it’s now out of sight.

But the Russians are probably just doing what we did ourselves not too many generations ago. The essential point isn’t to blame one nation or another, but to recognize that many of the world’s fisheries are in trouble and do something effective about it.

About two-thirds of the planet’s oceans are beyond the 200-mile territorial limits that nations assert, and only a small fraction of these unclaimed waters are protected by any kind of international agreement.

U.S. Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, are on the right course in pushing the U.N. to create regional fisheries management organizations to impose restrictions in the Pacific, Indian and Central Atlantic and Southwest Atlantic oceans. In the U.S. in recent years fisheries councils have done a comparatively good job of moving the nation toward long-term sustainability of commercial species.

“The United Nations must put an end to unregulated fishing practices on the high seas and call on nations to stop their vessels from conducting illegal, unreported and unregulated high-seas bottom trawling, until measures to regulate this practice are adopted,” Stevens said Tuesday.

Stevens and the Bush administration, not generally renowned for their environmental ethic, are right on point on this issue. We all should pull hard for their success.