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Rally behind national ocean plan

Management of our marine environment is still parceled out into competing fiefdom.

From the Oregonian, 2/19/2012

From Astor’s fur trade to the heyday of salmon canneries, from container terminals to futuristic wave energy buoys, saltwater has always knitted the Northwest economy together. In the Pacific Northwest, ocean-related activities contributed nearly $1.8 billion and 26,700 jobs in Oregon and $7 billion and 103,500 jobs in Washington in 2009.America as a whole is no different: the nation’s ocean economy is valued at $138 billion/year and supports 2.3 million jobs.

Simply put, the health and resilience of the marine environment is crucial to maintaining a diverse suite of economic, social and environmental benefits that we all depend on.

But management of our marine environment is still parceled out into competing fiefdoms of federal agencies working to implement at least 140 laws governing fisheries management, offshore energy, and marine conservation. That deeply complicates the monumental tasks facing ocean managers in tackling resource depletion, regulatory constraints, coastal development, and climate change. These threaten coastal livelihoods and the national economy that are tied so closely to ocean health. Lack of funded, coordinated ocean governance decreases our ability to focus on threats such as ocean acidification, the corrosive effects of which already seem to be hurting the Northwest’s shellfish populations.

The National Ocean Policy for the Stewardship of our Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes, released in July 2010, attempts to replace the problem of competing management with a new style of collaborative management. It builds on the work of two separate national commissions — the independent Pew Oceans Commission and the congressionally established U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, appointed by George W. Bush — both of which called for a comprehensive and unifying policy. It was founded on sound science and a year-long public engagement process that included people from many sectors — fishing, science, recreation, transportation, conservation and more.

Critics say that the policy would be onerous to an already freighted federal bureaucracy. But the truth is quite the opposite. Rather than adding new legal burdens, the National Ocean Policy does not replace or override existing statute or alter the jurisdiction of any agency. Instead, the policy is meant to ensure that all government agencies that play a role in ocean-related work — from fishing to shipping to offshore energy and coastal development — work from a single playbook: the National Ocean Policy. Such coordination will better protect our marine environment and the millions of jobs it supports.

Now, over a year after this policy was established in 2010, the National Ocean Council has released a draft implementation plan that will enable the policy to make real progress in the water. This is a big step forward for implementing the National Ocean Policy, and it will eventually lead to some serious action on issues such as the need to better manage salmon across their entire Pacific Northwest ecosystem, for the benefit of the fish and the wide range of people and animals that depend on them. In addition, as the demands on our ocean spaces rapidly multiply, this policy will help to guide sound regional planning to prevent incompatible use of our seas.

Given how central the marine environment is to sustaining Oregon and the Northwest’s way of life, the implementation of this policy is an important move toward addressing the challenges of managing our marine resources so that we can leave a healthy ocean for future generations to inherit.

Now is the time for our state and federal agencies, tribal governments and elected leaders to support the implementation of the National Ocean Policy.