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Woglom: Efforts to Block National Ocean Policy Are Misguided

The gross overreaction by critics of the National Ocean Policy has now moved beyond baseless criticism.

House lawmakers have passed an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and science spending bill blocking implementation of the policy — a step that could have dire consequences for our oceans and the people who depend on them.

This is not an “effort to conquer our coastlines,” as some critics have called it. The president does not intend to ban all sport fishing, as others have claimed.

Much of the policy is simply about coordinating and minimizing redundancy of existing programs that manage and protect the ocean, beaches and coastal economies. A vital source of livelihoods, the ocean provides jobs such as tourism and fishing, in addition to new opportunities such as harnessing the energy from wind, waves and currents.

While critics have focused on some of the more controversial portions of the policy, their efforts to block implementation put at risk the vast portions of the policy that aren’t controversial — namely, programs and services that already exist and that Americans have come to rely on.

For example, the National Ocean Policy Draft Implementation Plan lists marine debris prevention and cleanup‚ an already existing program, as a priority. Marine debris affects not only ocean ecosystems and wildlife but also coastal economies. If efforts to block implementation of the entire policy are successful, will that restrict or have a chilling effect on agencies that do this work?

What happens when it comes time for communities in Hawaii and Alaska and on the West Coast to address debris washing ashore from the Japan tsunami — a ban on cleanups? Would Congress want to stop the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard and NASA from coordinating the tracking of and response to debris?  

The policy also identifies as a priority a community-based program to remove old fishing nets that kill countless marine wildlife every year. Could this ban on implementing the policy hurt fisheries as more fish are caught by abandoned “ghost nets” as opposed to actual fishermen?

The National Ocean Policy also prioritizes support for emerging ocean industries. One way is by providing weather, wind and current information for offshore renewable energy development. If a company needs data to ensure the best possible investment, but Congress has blocked implementation, including this priority, would this mean agencies would be restricted from providing this information?

Consider how that would affect future development — killing potential ocean-dependent American jobs.

At its heart, the policy is about better management through improved collaboration and coordination. More than 20 federal agencies and 140 laws address our coasts and the ocean, often in competing and conflicting ways. Industries including commercial fishing, recreation, offshore energy and shipping are all vying to use the same waters, including sensitive areas and important fish habitats. Without smart planning, we end up with haphazard and uncoordinated development.

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how a comprehensive, multisector ocean planning effort could increase profit and reduce conflict. That’s why some states and regions are already choosing to undertake coordinated planning in the ocean. They are driving a process that enables them to make planning decisions based on the state’s vision for their ocean spaces.

So why are lawmakers in Washington trying to stop them?

These attacks need to stop. Congress and constituents must work together to ensure natural resources are used efficiently so coastal economies flourish now and in the future. We all want an ocean that is healthy and can be sustainably developed, and the National Ocean Policy is merely a way to accomplish this more effectively.

Emily Woglom is director of government relations for Ocean Conservancy.

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