GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 18, 2009

My View: Reaching out for input through Ocean Policy Task Force

My View

This fall, President Obama's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force is traveling to four more cities as part of a six-city tour to hear from the public about how best to ensure the protection, maintenance and restoration of our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.

The task force, with vigorous participation by NOAA and 24 other federal departments and agencies, has released an interim report for a national policy for oceans, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems, a framework for policy coordination, and a strategy to implement the objectives of the national policy.

These recommendations were published in the Federal Register this week. The public has 30 days to review and provide comments.

The task force will hold its next public meeting in Providence, R.I., at the Convention Center in downtown Providence on Sept. 24 from 4 to 7 p.m.

I was at the first meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, and I encourage all those who are interested in taking part in this important national conversation about the future of our oceans and coasts to try to attend this meeting or to go online to submit your comments at oceancomments@ceq.eop.gov. The Providence meeting is the third of six that will take place until the end of October and the only one in New England. The last three meetings will be in Honolulu, New Orleans and Cleveland.

It's important for the diverse fishing communities and sectors to attend these meetings. It's essential that commercial and recreational fishermen as well as those in environmental groups, scientists, energy entrepreneurs, the general public and other stakeholders who care about our oceans and coasts be part of this national process to advise President Obama.

Gloucester fishermen and other members of the public from our nation's oldest commercial fishing community need to be at the table.

Earlier this week, the task force, which is headed by Nancy Sutley, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, issued its initial recommendations for a national policy to ensure the protection, maintenance and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources.

The public can go to http://www.whitehouse.gov /oceans/ to read these recommendations and submit comments. Over the next three months, the task force will complete and publish an interim report on a framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning. Marine Spatial Planning is the process of balancing competing demands for ocean space and ocean resources in order to sustain ecological, economic and cultural services for today and for future generations.

Massachusetts has been in the forefront of marine spatial planning by adopting the first comprehensive marine spatial planning map for state waters. The map identifies areas deemed too sensitive for development as well as areas that are best suited to various uses. It sets up a framework for future planning.

The nation is seeing intense pressure for the use of federal ocean waters, that area from the end of state waters to 200 miles off the coast. Offshore energy developers — from oil and gas to wind and waves — are looking for more places to harness this resource.

Meanwhile, traditional users such as commercial and recreational fishermen are seeking to fish in the most productive fishing grounds. And environmentalists are urging the protection of fragile coastal and ocean ecosystems. We need a national framework to help balance these uses so that we can ensure sustainable marine ecosystems, economic activities and minimize conflict.

The public meetings by the task force are an important way for the nation to join this conversation about our future stewardship of the oceans and coasts. I urge you to set aside the time to attend the public hearing in Providence or go online to read the draft policy and submit your ideas.

I welcome your comments. Please send them to me at public.concerns.groundfish@noaa.gov.

Jim Balsiger is acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.