By Richard Gaines
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.
"It's a new fad bureaucracy, whether states want it or not," said Hastings. "I've asked for the statutory authority, but I've only been given a hodgepodge list. They haven't been concise. The Obama administration has decided that the president's signature along is all that's required."
The National Ocean Policy involves new concepts, including marine spatial planning and ecosystem-based management, championed for years by Lubchenco.
Marine spatial planning's closest terrestrial parallel is simple zoning. But, as White House officials told the Times last year, "instead of mapping it out," nine regional advisory committees reporting to the National Ocean Council would attempt to work out how shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, recreation, aquaculture, mining and drilling and other uses might be fit together, if continued mining and drilling are allowed at all.
In the executive order, Obama 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 regions of NOAA Fisheries — plus the Great Lakes as a ninth — are to be organized into regions over which newly established bodies of federal, state and tribal officials preside to debate and decide recommended marine spatial plans.
Each region would have its own values and uses for the seas — inland or off-shore. But those plans must pass muster for compatibility with federal policies at the National Ocean Council.
"The National Ocean Policy creates a federal ocean zoning regime that will likely result in substantial new regulations and restrictions on ocean users," read a statement from The Seafood Coalition, a broader umbrella organization that includes Gloucester's Northeast Seafood Coalition and the New Bedford-based Fisheries Survival Fund. The coalition claims to represent harvesters of 85 percent of domestic seafood landings.
Another concern expressed by the fishing industry is the diversion of funding to the National Oceans Policy from stock assessment and monitoring.
The land-based interests expressed concern about "upstream watersheds and airsheds, as well as any activities that might have a connection to ocean resources, coastal waters and the Great Lakes.
"We believe congressional oversight must proceed any further action on Executive Order 13547 (which was signed in July 2010)," those groups said in their letter.
It was signed by the Agricultural Retailers Association, CropLife America, National Association of Home Builders, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Mining Association, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, the Public Lands Council and the Fertilizer Institute.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at email@example.com.