Recent House passage of an amendment providing for a pause in implementation of the new National Ocean Policy is a welcome development for those seeking to maintain and enhance the productivity of our nation’s marine and inland areas.
This action was supported by groups as varied as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Fisheries Institute and the National Ocean Policy Coalition, among many others.
Because it is being implemented by executive order rather than statute, the policy has not been subject to the scrutiny that accompanies the legislative process. In turn, significant questions about this initiative, and its potential effects on citizens, businesses and existing laws and processes, have still not been adequately addressed.
For example, how will regional fishery management councils effectively carry out their responsibilities under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act when the National Ocean Policy requires federal implementation of potentially inconsistent regional zoning plans developed by regional planning bodies?
In addition, the National Ocean Council has disclosed that federal agencies have been directed to prioritize the National Ocean Policy in their budgets and asked how existing resources can be repurposed. With resources already scarce, how will this affect the continuation and improvement of existing authorized activities such as fishery stock assessments that directly affect recreational anglers and commercial fishermen across the country as well as the communities they support?
Concerns about potentially repurposing funds across the federal government in support of an initiative that has not been authorized by Congress are underscored by recent headlines surrounding the disclosure that tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds were reprogrammed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration without Congressional notification.
Ocean Conservancy’s May 24 Roll Call op-ed referred to a “gross overreaction” among those who support a time-out and suggested that concerns about prohibitions on fishing activity are unfounded. Concerns about the potential for the policy to lead to new and unnecessary marine access and use restrictions, however, are real and based in part on past experience.
In California, Ocean Conservancy played a big role in the implementation of the state’s Marine Life Protection Act, a marine zoning process that resulted in about 20 percent of our state waters becoming marine reserves or other forms of marine protected areas. Most of the funding for this process was provided by large nongovernmental organizations and foundations, and many direct participants observed that this led to excessive NGO influence on policy interpretation, inadequate scientific peer review, the refusal to integrate MPA proposals with existing fishery management and the failure to screen science team members for conflicts of interest.
Given that Ocean Conservancy touts the supposed benefits of “highly protected marine reserves, where fishing is prohibited,” it is not surprising that it pushed for the maximum closures and largely disregarded the needs of fishermen and coastal communities.