Fishermen to Congress: Please Scuttle Obama’s National Oceans Policy

November 17, 2011 - 8:35 PM

President Obama and co-chairmen of National Ocean Council

President Obama, joined by White House Science Advisor John Holdren and Council on Environmental Quality director Nancy Sutley, signs exectuve order creating National Ocean Policy. (White House photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The nation’s commercial fishermen say the Obama administration is trying to impose top-down bureaucratic regulation on the use of the oceans and the nation’s fisheries, which they say will put fishing jobs at stake.

A group calling itself the Seafood Coalition is calling on Congress to do what it can to scuttle President Obama’s National Ocean Policy National Ocean Policy, which the president unilaterally imposed by executive order in 2010.

In a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee, the Seafood Coalition said that the president’s plan adds a needless level of top-down bureaucracy and regulation on fisheries.

“The National Ocean Policy creates a federal ocean zoning regime that will likely result in substantial new regulations and restrictions on ocean users,” Nils Stolpe, spokesman for the Seafood Coalition, told CNSNews.com on Monday.

The coalition says it is also concerned that the administration is going to take money away from programs that are currently working well to pay for the new layer of bureaucracy.

“What we’ve asked for in our letter to the chairman was for Congress to use whatever funding capacity they have to stop this,” Stolpe said.

The Seafood Coalition describes itself as a “broad national coalition of commercial fishing interests, seafood processors, and coastal communities” that includes members from every region of the U.S. and “accounts for about 85 percent of the fish and shellfish products landed annually in the U.S.”

In July of 2010, President Obama signed the order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes.

The order directs all federal agencies to implement the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, which was created by White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The National Ocean Policy identifies nine objectives and outlines a “flexible framework” for how bureaucrats will “effectively address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.”

One of the key objectives is called “coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP)” -- which the  executive order defines as “a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and  transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas.”

It added: “In practical terms, coastal and marine spatial planning provides a public policy process for society to better determine how the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes are sustainably used and protected -- now and for future generations.”

But Stolpe and the Seafood Coalition said CMSP essentially means the imposition of top-down federal planning boards to govern ocean use.

“It establishes a number of regional boards that in essence are in charge of what goes on in the oceans of those particular regions -- from a fishing perspective, from an energy development perspective, from a transportation perspective, from a recreational use perspective,” Stolpe said.

The executive order also creates a National Oceans Council, headed by White House Science Adviser Dr. John Holdren and Council for Environmental Quality director Nancy Sutley, to oversee overall ocean planning.

No one from the seafood industry will be part of the council, the coalition said.

“These are people far-far removed from the nitty-gritty of fisheries management,” Stolpe told CNSNews.com. “I would assume that they are far-far removed from the nitty-gritty of just about anything.”

Stolpe said the regional boards will throw up in the air the bottom-up scheme that has been in effect since 1976, when Congress passed the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to address overfishing.

“The management program we have in place now is working – it’s working really well – and we don’t need another layer of bureaucracy stuck on top of that,” he said.

Stolpe said the commercial seafood industry currently works hand-in-hand with federal and state fisheries managers and scientists to create “an effective management process” which already promotes “sustainable” fishing.

“Eighty percent of our domestic fisheries – fisheries exclusively in the U.S. economic zone – are no longer being overfished,” Stolpe said.

The White House, meanwhile, specifically denies the accusation made by the fishing industry.

“The National Ocean Policy in no way restricts any ocean, coastal, or Great Lakes activity, nor does it impose ocean zoning through CMSP or any other component,
the White House Web site says.

“Only the Federal agencies are required to follow the regionally developed CMSPs. Tribal, state and local governments will benefit by having a regional CMSP blueprint to follow, and their participation in CMSP is voluntary,” the White House added.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, says he, too, has serious concerns about the administration’s National Oceans Policy and feels that Congress should intervene.

Young’s office told CNSNews.com that the congressman is pleased that both the House and Senate Commerce appropriations bills defund Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, but said “it is a real concern” that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) will simply divert funds from other accounts to make up for these losses.

“Most concerning is that these diversions would more than likely come from existing fisheries management accounts, which is a core emphasis for NOAA and are already underfunded,” Young’s spokesman, Luke Miller, told CNSNews.com.

“As a result, in the FY 12 appropriations process, Congressman Young requested that funds be restricted from being used to implement the CMSP program and the Executive Order that created the NOP.”

The House Natural Resources Committee has held two hearings on the topic, one of which included CEQ Chairwoman Sutley and NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.