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July 20, 2010

Feds' ocean management gets new structural layer

By executive order, President Obama has hit the go button for the creation of a political system for writing ocean and Great Lakes usage plans overseen by a new National Ocean Council.

The ideas involved including "marine spatial planning" and "ecosystem based management" have had a champion for years in Jane Lubchenco, a leading academic scientist before her nomination to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Marine spatial planning has its closest terrestrial analog in simple zoning, but as White House officials Tuesday conceded, "instead of mapping it out," as a zoning plan would do, the new bureaucracy — with nine regional advisory committees reporting to the National Ocean Council — would attempt to work out how shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, recreational, aquaculture, mining/drilling and other uses might be fit together, if continued mining and drilling are allowed at all.

The Executive Order signed by the president Monday said he was providing for the "development of coastal and marine spatial plans that build upon and improve existing federal, state, tribal and regional decision-making and planning processes."

The eight ocean regions of NOAA Fisheries plus the Great Lakes as a ninth will be organized into regions over which newly established bodies of federal, state and tribal officials preside to debate and decide recommended marine spatial plans.

It is intended that each region has its own unique set of values and uses for the seas — inland or off-shore. But those plans must pass muster for compatibility with the federal policies at the National Ocean Council.

Environmental groups have applauded the executive order, but recreational and commercial fishing writers have been concerned that political power struggles for spatial planning consideration include commercial interests likely to overpower them.

"This appears to be an attempt by the executive branch to circumvent the established legislative process and enact policy that failed as legislation five years in a row," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.

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