Statement of U.S. Senator John Breaux
to the Committee on Environment and Public Works
on S. 1222, the "Estuary Habitat Restoration Partnership Act of 1997"
July 9, 1998

I'd like to thank the Chairman of the committee, Senator John Chafee, for this opportunity to address the committee and I am pleased to join him at today's hearing on the "Estuary Habitat Restoration Partnership Act of 1997". I want to commend him for his leadership on this issue. I also appreciate the 25 other Senators who have joined us as co-sponsors of this bill so that we may draw national attention to the significant value of the Nation's estuaries and the need to restore them.

This bill seeks to create a voluntary, community driven, incentive-based program which builds partnerships between federal, state and local governments and the private sector to restore estuaries, including sharing in the cost of restoration projects.

Some relevant and eye-opening statistics about estuaries which have been published include:

75% of commercial fish and shellfish which are harvested in the U.S. and 80- 90% of the recreational fish catch depend upon estuary habitat at some life stage.

The rapid and significant loss of estuary habitat, reaching over 90% in some areas, threatens the commercial and sport fishing industries, tourism, recreation, and other industries. These industries provide jobs to about 28 million U.S. citizens. Fishing alone contributes $111 billion to the U.S. economy per year.

In my own State of Louisiana, fish and wildlife resources are estimated to bring $5.7 billion into the economy yearly. Louisiana's coast produces 16% of the commercial harvest fisheries in the U.S.

40% of the wild fur harvest in the U.S. comes from Louisiana's wetlands.

With estuaries and coastal regions being home to about half of the U.S. population, and with coastal counties growing 3 times faster than counties elsewhere, it is obvious that the ecological and economic impact of estuary losses must be taken seriously and must be addressed.

In Louisiana, our estuaries, such as the Ponchartrain, Barataria-Terrebonne, and Vermilion Bay systems are vital to the culture and economy of local communities. When the Acadian people migrated to Louisiana in the 1700s, they settled there because of the abundance of natural resources along its coastal wetlands. The lifestyle and jobs of many Louisianians continues to be centered around these resources, which are as much a part of its culture as its economy.

I am proud:

-- that Louisiana has been at the forefront of the movement to recognize the importance of estuaries and to propose legislation to restore them, in particular the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

-- that the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary is one of 28 estuaries in the National Estuary Program.

-- of the advanced level of the work Louisiana is conducting in its coastal areas, including the development and implementation of a federally-approved coastal wetlands conservation plan.

It is time now for Congress to implement a strategy whereby public and private partnerships may be used to ensure that estuaries remain ecologically and economically vibrant for future generations through restoration projects.

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, I again want to thank you for your leadership and look forward to working with you and other Senators on this critical piece of environmental legislation. Because estuaries are an important national resource, bringing real dollars to our economy and affecting the lives, the safety, and the well-being of people all over this nation, I am hopeful that the Congress will move in a timely manner to authorize an effective estuary restoration program which will result in healthy and viable ecosystems.