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November 24, 2011

Fishermen, farming, mining groups decry ocean zoning

A national alliance of fishing groups, including the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, and advocates for the nation's farmers, ranchers, builders and miners have urged Congress to negate President Obama's National Ocean Policy, rolled out in 2010 via executive order.

Fishing interests warn that the policy entails a kind of ocean zoning that threatens fishing industry jobs, while the land-based alliance expressed concern about executive overreach that might lead to decisions based on uncertain values and priorities, squelching business along inland waterways.

The White House has denied the policy is akin to ocean zoning, and, in two heated hearings by the House Natural Resources Committee this fall, Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has scoffed at the worries.

"Opposing ocean planning is like opposing air traffic control," Markey argued at the second hearing on Nov. 7. He described the opposition as engaging in "scare tactics."

But the Republican majority, led by the committee chairman, Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington, agreed with the ocean zoning characterization in sparring with Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who was representing the president.

Congressman Jon Runyon, a New Jersey Republican, said the top-down approach to the National Ocean Policy reminded him of the way that Lubchenco's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced her catch share policy by top-down leverage.

"NOAA does not impose catch shares," Lubchenco countered.

"I've never seen anybody dance around the answers like that, you never answer the questions," Congressman Don Young, an Alaska Republican, told Lubchenco and Sutley.

Hastings said he doubted that the White House had the legal authority to introduce the National Ocean Policy by executive order.

Lubchenco also introduced catch shares — which has created a commodities market within fisheries and is widely blamed for accelerating job losses and fleet consolidation — without congressional input or approval in 2009.

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