Well below the low-water line for news, the White House is moving to create a system for managing the space — surface and depth — of federal waters that amounts to ocean zoning and is known as "marine spatial planning."
If adopted by Congress and imposed, the new approach would force radical alteration of the historic American understanding of the "open seas" — by purpose, they would no longer be open and instead zoned for pre- and proscribed uses.
Gov. Deval Patrick has a state task force at work drafting a parallel zoning program for the three mile ribbon of state water inside the 200 mile federal water frame.
A simple model cited by the White House task force to exemplify the nature of marine spacial planning is how the main shipping channel through the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was shifted slightly to the south about four years ago to reduce collisions with whales.
The approach would impose a super bureaucracy over the many already operating with authority over aspects of federal waters — "a leviathan of a regulatory structure," in the phrase of David Frulla and Shaun Gehan, Washington lawyers who write a column for National Fisherman.
A near synonym for "marine spatial planning," is "ecosystem based management," a phase often used by Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to describe how she believes the fisheries should be managed.
The vehicle for the first phase of the process of extending the concept of land use planning, essentially zoning, to the 200 ocean-mile "exclusive economic zone," established by the 1976 Magnuson Act, and the Great Lakes, is what is called the "Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spacial Planning."
The product of a six-month study by an Interagency Task Force of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the interim report was filed Dec. 14. The comment period closes on Friday. Comments can be filed on line.