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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Puget Sound Recovery Caucus reintroduces bill to find solutions to sea star wasting syndrome and other underwater disease emergencies

Feb 13, 2015
Press Release
Congressman Denny Heck introduces Marine Disease Emergency Act in new Congress to establish official emergency process in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEBRUARY 13, 2015 – In an effort to save the Puget Sound from what is being termed “sea star wasting syndrome” as well as other major marine disease emergencies, Representative Denny Heck (WA-10) and the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus are introducing the Marine Disease Emergency Act for consideration by the 114th Congress.

The legislation would establish the template for determining marine disease emergencies and the development of a 120-day rapid response plan.

The proposal follows the outbreak of the sea star wasting syndrome, which has been described as the “largest underwater disease epidemic on our U.S. shores, stretching from Alaska to Mexico on our West Coast and covering an unknown area on the East Coast, and involving over 20 species” by Professor Drew Harvell, a marine ecologist with Cornell University.

“Starfish are a keystone species, meaning their decline will hit the ecosystem and economy hard if something isn’t done soon,” Heck said. “The Marine Disease Emergency Act will work to save our delicate ecosystem and prevent the inevitable backlash for our marine environment and fishing industries.”

Under the guidelines of the Marine Disease Emergency Act, sea star wasting syndrome will be declared a marine disease emergency triggering a series of steps to stop the spread.

The bill also establishes:

  • A national data repository to facilitate the development, coordination, and rapid dissemination of research.
  • A “Marine Disease Emergency Fund” within the Treasury Department to accept public donations.
  • A permanent, volunteer “Marine Disease Working Group” to advise the Secretary of Commerce on marine disease emergencies.

Early support of this bill is bipartisan and bicoastal, including the following original cosponsors:

  • Representative and Puget Sound Recovery Caucus Co-Chair Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
  • Representatives and Puget Sound Recovery Caucus members Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Jim McDermott (WA-07), and Adam Smith (WA-09)
  • Representatives Lois Capps (CA-24) and Jared Huffman (CA-02)
  • Representatives David Jolly (FL-13) and Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
  • Representative and Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
  • Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)

The Marine Disease Emergency Act has also received strong support from the Seattle Aquarium’s Marine Policy and Marine Conservation Network. It was first introduced by Heck on September 18, 2014.

Congressmen Heck and Kilmer co-founded the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus in 2013 as part of their ongoing commitment to preserving the Puget Sound. The three priorities of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus are: preventing pollution from urban storm water runoff, protecting and restoring habitat, and restoring and re-opening shellfish beds.