CORVALLIS, Ore. - Mark Hixon, a marine biologist and professor of zoology at Oregon State University, has been elected to chair the Marine Protected Area Federal Advisory Committee.

This committee, which is charged with advising the Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of the Interior on policies to coordinate a national system of marine protected areas, met last week in Newport, Ore.

The 30-member panel was created by former President Clinton and continued under President Bush and includes a range of non-federal ocean experts in such fields as marine science, commercial and recreational fishing, environmental protection, marine resource management, Native American groups and various marine industries.

In its continuing work, Hixon will coordinate efforts of the group to develop a national system of marine protected areas. These are parts of the ocean that are legally reserved in order to protect sea life, sustain fisheries production, or preserve cultural heritage such as shipwrecks.

"Marine protected areas have been shown to be useful tools in preserving marine ecosystems and sustaining the benefits to humans that the sea provides," Hixon said. "This committee of dedicated experts ensures that all major stakeholder groups are represented in federal discussions of how to best use this tool, and the members continue to seek and find common ground."

At the recent meeting in Oregon, the committee heard conflicting and polarized testimony, Hixon said. Some public comment supported establishment of marine reserves in the state's territorial sea to preserve sea life, whereas others are concerned about marine reserves closing fishing areas. Members of the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council, which is charged to implement marine reserves in Oregon waters, also briefed the committee about its activities.

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Mark Hixon,