Why are people still complaining about the National Ocean Policy?

A congressional hearing increases fear that we may lose an important management tool

It’s been pretty close to a year since we started hearing rumors that the new Administration wanted to revoke the National Ocean Policy.

For sure, some folks were pushing for this so there was reason for concern, but thankfully, nothing happened.

Up until, well, this week, we thought the National Ocean Policy was in the clear. Mainly because … why wouldn’t you keep something that appears to be working? For sure, it’s been improving how we’re managing ocean use, and ultimately, it’ll work to ensure ecosystems remain intact, and that we still have places to fish.

We probably don’t need to tell you that proposals are popping up around offshore energy – both oil/gas and wind – and aquaculture. States are running out of sand to rebuild beaches that are getting hit from stronger, bigger storms. All these uses are picking up steam. And where this stuff is sited is important in the context of other ocean uses … fishing in particular.

There are dozens of state and federal agencies that make decisions offshore and who need to work together. Many of these agencies have overlapping responsibilities and we don’t have time for that kind of confusion. This isn’t a new problem: decades of research and public outreach, as well as the recommendations of two separate, bipartisan ocean commissions called for improved coordination of our shared ocean resources. And the National Ocean Policy finally does that.

The policy calls for states, fisheries managers, and federal agencies to work together to identify user conflicts early before they become problems (e.g., after the permitting process). The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions developed regional roadmaps to improve coordination and developed publicly accessible data portals where you can find maps that show the overlaps among different uses, such as fishing, shipping lanes, recreational boating and proposed wind farms.

The policy also calls for a holistic way of looking at marine ecosystems, and recommends that resources be managed in a way that keeps them healthy. Pretty clear how this benefits anglers. If we don’t have healthy ecosystems, we don’t have fish.

One year in to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regional ocean plans and I’m seeing government inviting fishermen to the table early to discuss offshore wind. The Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM) contracting with the National Academies of Science to launch the Atlantic Offshore Renewable Energy Development and Fisheries Steering Committee to hear from fisheries scientists, managers, and fishermen directly about how best to advance offshore wind. New Jersey anglers used the data portal to share their concerns about a potential sand mining project at Manasquan Ridge, a key fishing ground for fluke and bluefish. Alternatives are being discussed. The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Acidification Network brought ocean acidification researchers, industry, and resource managers together to address this problem.

But in a few days, the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing asking for stakeholder perspectives with a few witnesses that have been opposed to regional planning from the start.

Some witnesses seem dedicated to spreading fears that this is some massive federal government overreach. Fact is, regional ocean planning does not create new regulations, laws, or authorities. It’s bringing people together and gathering information on marine life and use to inform decision-making under existing authorities.

As a fishermen and stakeholders, we see the good that the National Ocean Policy is bringing. We need to keep the National Ocean Policy – now more than ever.

Here on the Atlantic, the ocean economy brings in something like $90 billion to the country’s gross domestic products. More than 60 percent of that is from tourism, recreation and fishing and seafood. Things that need a healthy ocean.

Why wouldn’t we want to help these businesses and coastal communities?