, Gloucester, MA

February 8, 2010

Feds plan ocean zoning, replacing 'open seas'

By Richard Gaines

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.

"It envisages nine new regional planning councils, comprised of high federal, state and tribal officials," wrote Frulla and Gehan, who represent the Fisheries Survival Fund, the wideflung organization of scallop interests based in Fairhaven. These councils would be "empowered to make binding ... decisions...."

In their March column, Frulla and Gehan wonder whether there now exists authority for the federal government to create an entirely new regulatory structure for planning and directing marine uses, at least not the way its "buzzword-laden jargon" suggests.

Lubchenco for so long has been an advocate of "ecosystem based management," she could be considered its political den mistress if not mother. Indeed, she wrote the forward to the book, "Ecosystem based management for the Oceans," a compendium of "expert" thinking edited by two academic scientists in Lubchenco's orbit, Brown University's Heather Leslie and Karen McLeod, director of COMPASS, which is an acronym for the organization Lubchenco created at Oregon State University for bringing together scientists and journalists.

The book explains that ecosystem based management differs from current approaches that "usually focus on a single species or type of activity. Instead, ecosystem based management plans and strategies incorporate the cumulative impacts of multiple activities on entire ecosystems."

Marine spatial planning "would use an ecosystem-based management approach that addresses cumulative effects to ensure the protection, integrity, maintenance, resilience, and restoration of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems, while promoting multiple sustainable uses," the task force wrote.

The framework for marine spatial planning or ocean zoning grows from the work of the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in which Lubchenco was a major influence.

Frulla and Gehan found "ominous" suggestions that prior to the issuance of final plans — zoning maps — of the ocean, the planning councils would evaluate "alternative future use scenarios and tradeoffs.

"In a battle of tradeoffs as between oil and mineral extraction, transportation, recreational use, national security, aquaculture, renewable-energy development and most significantly 'sustained, ecosystem functions and services,'" they wrote, "it seems unlikely that commercial fishermen will walk away from the table with greater fishing opportunities."

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or via e-mail at