Significant Issues and Developments for 2014


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U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA Sign Memorandum of Agreement to Preserve Historic WWI Shipwreck of the Diamond Shoal Lightship No. 71 (September 2014).

On September 18, 2014, representatives of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) formalizing their joint commitment to preserve and protect the historic Diamond Shoal Lightship No. 71. During WWI, the lightship was sunk while anchored off Cape Hatteras, North Caroline by a German U-Boat.   The wreck now lies on the seabed not far from NOAA's Monitor National Marine SanctuaryNOAA Press Release (Oct. 7, 2014).  Built in 1897, the lightship served as a floating lighthouse, sound signal station and navigational beacon for 21 years until it was sunk on August 6, 1918. NOAA has surveyed and documented a number of historically significant shipwrecks located off North Carolina's coast as part of the NOAA Battle of the Atlantic project.  ONMS will take the lead on survey work focused on the lightship such as photo and video documentation and archaeological site plans of the wreck site. The resulting material will be used to list the shipwreck on the National Register of Historic Places and for other initiatives to protect and manage it under applicable laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act. 

GC International Section Has Prepared a Digest of Statutes Which Impose Mandates on NOAA With Respect to International Activities (June 2014).

NOAA was created in 1970 by a reorganization plan under which President Nixon transferred functions belonging to various agencies into a new NOAA that was established as a bureau within the Department of Commerce.  Although that reorganization plan did not provide an overall mission for the agency, and although Congress has not since enacted a comprehensive statute defining the mission and specific functions of the agency, NOAA has evolved over time into the central civilian agency for oceans and atmospheric issues - responsibilities which, of necessity, call for cooperation and interaction with the international community.  This has been accomplished through the enactment of some 200 statutes which address specific sectors and specific needs.  Some of these statutes give discretion to NOAA, either directly or through the Secretary of Commerce.  Others mandate action or involvement by the agency.  NOAA GC International Section has created a digest of statues in the latter category -statutes which mandate NOAA's international engagement.  For example, in connection with the congressional goal of implementing the U.N. moratorium on the use of large-scale driftnets, the Secretary of Commerce is directed by statute to seek to secure international agreements on the subject and to include specific types of provisions in those agreements.  This digest is intended to be a living document, subject to revision and supplementation as needed.

GC International Section Has Prepared a Digest of Statutes That Authorize a Transfer of Funds to Support International Engagements (June 2014).

NOAA GC International Section has created a digest of existing statutory provisions that authorize the transfer of funds or other types of support either into or out of NOAA and that contemplate as at least one reason for such a transfer the advancement of NOAA's international engagements and commitments.  The provisions described in this compendium focus on NOAA or Department of Commerce authorities and may either involve transfers of money or of in-kind assistance.  The compendium focuses only on authorities that may be of assistance to NOAA in meeting its international obligations and commitments or that may provide support to other entities, whether domestic or international, in participating in the accomplishment of those international commitments.  They do not include:

This digest is intended to be a living document, subject to revision and supplementation as need.

The wrecksite of NOAA's 19th Century U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker listed on National Register of Historic Places (April 4, 2014)

The wreck of the steamship Robert J. Walker, that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA, has been listed as a historic resource on the National Register of Historic Places under the National Historic Preservation Act. News Release.   Built in 1847, the Walker was one of the U.S. government's first iron-hulled steamers and was used by the U.S. Coast Survey, established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, to survey the coast and produce the nation's nautical charts.  Twenty-one men died when Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, 10 miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner.   The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest single loss of life in the history of NOAA or its predecessor agencies.  Last year, NOAA and its partners confirmed the Walker's location and identity as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers and government and university maritime archaeologists. NOAA does not plan to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but instead will work with New Jersey's wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.  The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of cultural places considered worth preserving.  Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archaeological resources.  Properties listed in the National Register can qualify for federal grants for historic preservation.

Senate Agrees to U.S. Ratification of Four International Fisheries Agreements (April 3, 2014).

On April 3, 2014, the U.S. Senate agreed to resolutions of advice and consent to U.S. ratification of four international fisheries agreements, which brings the United States one significant step closer to becoming a party to these agreements.  These agreements help to further NOAA's mission to effectively conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources, and U.S. ratification will further enable the United States to advance these objectives internationally.   The agreements are: the Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, the first binding global instrument specifically designed to combat such fishing; amendments to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, which brings the Convention in line with modern international fisheries governance and will help to improve the way fisheries in this region are managed; and agreements establishing the North Pacific Fisheries Commission and the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, which fill gaps in international management over a broad range of species on the high seas in the Pacific and provide a framework for providing critical protections for vulnerable marine ecosystems on biodiverse seamounts.

Additional Reference Information: Some of these links are to external sites.

Treaty Doc. 112-4 - Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Treaty Doc. 113-1 - Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean

Treaty Doc. 113-2 - Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the North Pacific Ocean

Treaty Doc. 113-3 - Amendment to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries

United States and Four Other Governments Sign Hamilton Declaration to Cooperate in the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea (March 2014).

On March 11, 2014, the United States and four other governments (United Kingdom Monaco, Azores and Bermuda) signed theHamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea in Hamilton, Bermuda.  The Hamilton Declaration is the result of a two-year negotiation among interested governments that are either located in the broader Sargasso Sea area or have an interest in conservation of biodiversity in the high seas.  The Signatories endorsed the establishment of a Sargasso Sea Commission to encourage and facilitate voluntary collaboration toward the conservation of a unique ecosystem in the Atlantic that has been called “the golden rainforest of the ocean.” Characterized by a type of floating seaweed, the Sargasso Sea is a breeding, nursing, or foraging ground for several endangered species (e.g., European eels and Loggerhead turtles).  The Sargasso Sea Commission will exercise a stewardship role for the Sargasso Sea and keep its health, productivity and resilience under continual review.  NOAA has a long-standing interest in the Sargasso Sea, including a Fishery Management Plan for Pelagic Sargassum Habitat of the South Atlantic Region and rules to limit its harvest and protect it as essential fish habitat.  The International Section contributed to the drafting of the Hamilton Declaration and provided legal support to NOAA and the State Department during the negotiation process. 

Unique Vessel Identifiers for Fishing Vessels (January 2014).

In 2013, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and four regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) took a number of actions to enable and encourage fishing vessels to be assigned permanent unique vessel identifiers (UVIs) in the form of IMO numbers.  UVIs facilitate the timely and accurate identification of vessels and the verification of vessel activity over time, irrespective of changes of vessel name, ownership, or flag, making it more difficult for vessels to evade domestic and international monitoring and control measures.  Governments, including the United States, international organizations, industry, and environment stakeholders, have identified advancing the use of UVIs through actions of the IMO and RFMOs as a high priority in the fight against illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, as evidenced in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/71, recommendations of the 2011 Kobe Joint Tuna RFMO summit, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation Resolution 10-01, and NOAA's Leveling the Playing Field: NOAA's Priorities to Combat IUU Fishing in 2013.

Prior to 2013, vessels solely engaged in fishing were outside the scope of the IMO's ship identification numbering scheme.  In December 2013, the IMO Assembly adopted Resolution A.1078(28), which amended the IMO ship identification numbering scheme by removing the exception for fishing vessels and thereby providing for the voluntary application of the scheme to fishing vessels 100 gross tons and above.  Efforts to expand the IMO scheme helped pave the way for RFMOs to adopt measures to require fishing vessels to obtain an IMO number.  In late 2013, four RFMOs adopted or expanded requirements that certain vessels have an IMO number: the Commission for the Conservation of Arctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO), and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).  These actions by the IMO and RFMOs represent significant movement forward in the development of new tools to combat IUU fishing.

Update: In July 2014, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) adopted a requirement that certain fishing vessels authorized to fish for IATTC species have an IMO number.

Additional Reference Information: Some of these links are to external sites.

IMO Resolution A.1078(28)

IMO Meeting Summary of 28th IMO Assembly

FAO Press Release: The preconditions of using the IMO Number as the UVI for vessels have been met

Licensing and inspection obligations of Contracting Parties with regard to their flag vessels operating in the Convention Area [CCAMLR Conservation Measure 10-02]

Recommendation by ICCAT Concerning the Establishment of an ICCAT Record of Vessels 20 Meters in Length Overall or Greater Authorized to Operate in the Convention Area [Rec. 13-13]

Establishment of the Commission record of Vessels authorised to fish in the Convention Area [SPRFMO CMM 2.05]

Conservation and Management Measure for WCPFC Implementation of a Unique Vessel Identifier (UVI) [CMM 2013-04]

Resolution (Amended) On a Regional Vessel Register [IATTC Res. C-14-01]

Groundbreaking Study on Underwater Cultural Heritage Law Published (January 2014).

The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has published the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) Law Study prepared by the International Section of NOAA's Office of General Counsel. This study provides an analysis of existing laws protecting UCH on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), identifies gaps in protection, and provides three recommendations on how to address those gaps, including proposals to amend the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. The Study also provides a link to the NOAA Coastal Services Center Ocean Law Search database and website that contains a copy of the final study, summaries of the statutes and key cases related to UCH Law Study, as well as links to the various bills, reports, and other documents describing the legislative histories of the more relevant statutes. The protection and management of UCH is a challenging topic that involves the interplay of United States statutes, maritime law, international law, and often-complex issues regarding what law applies when and against whom it may be enforced. At the same time, there is ongoing risk from activities that may directly or indirectly destroy UCH, such as unscientific salvage or looting, energy development, dredging, and bottom trawling. The UCH Law Study and corresponding website are tools for use by practitioner of law, history and archaeology as well as students and others interested in preserving our underwater cultural heritage for present and future generations.