Obama Administration Maps the Way toward Better Oceans Management

Many Americans are familiar with the pleasures of swimming, fishing, and beachcombing along our ocean waters. But few people know how much the oceans contribute to our national economy. In 2009, ocean-related tourism and recreation alone generated more than 1.8 million jobs. In fact, oceans contribute more to our nation’s economic output than the entire U.S. farm sector.

I had the privilege of serving on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. My experience talking with fishermen, tourist business operators, and coastal residents brought home for me just how much Americans depend upon healthy ocean waters.

Yet for decades, America lacked a comprehensive system for managing our ocean riches and protecting the jobs that healthy oceans create. People who depend upon the sea had to navigate over 100 different laws and policies, managers had a hard time balancing competing interests, and state and local leaders had few opportunities to create long-term plans for marine ecosystems

The Obama Administration is helping change that. On Thursday it released a draft implementation plan for America’s first-ever National Ocean Policy. The draft plan is a blueprint of what we need to do in order to help address some of the biggest challenges facing ocean life – from ocean acidification to threatened water quality to habitat degradation. This plan will help us achieve the National Ocean Policy’s goal to protect and restore our ocean resources.


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Photo credit: Andrew Malone

The push to create a National Ocean Policy has long-standing bipartisan support. Two national commissions—the first established by Congress and appointed by President George W. Bush and the Pew Oceans Commission chaired by the Honorable Leon Panetta—both identified the need for a national plan several years ago.

Still, some GOP lawmakers are trying to fold the National Ocean Policy into their anti-government rhetoric. They claim the policy will create new layers of bureaucracy and regulation, when in fact it will do neither.

By streamlining the way existing agencies work, it will reduce government waste, inefficiency, and delay. Under the National Ocean Policy, all the government agencies that play a role in ocean-related work—from fishing to shipping to offshore energy and coastal development—will coordinate their efforts, saving time and taxpayer money.

One of the most forward-looking elements of the National Ocean Policy is its call for comprehensive ocean planning. Every day, decisions are made about the industrial use of our oceans, and most of them are made on a “first-come, first-served” ad hoc basis. The American public has few opportunities to weigh in, and managers rarely have time to consider how allowing shipping in one area will affect fishermen’s catches or how allowing drilling offshore will impact tourism on the coast.

Comprehensive ocean planning involves a thoughtful assessment of what ocean uses are compatible, what are not and what’s needed to maintain the overall health of ocean resources and ecosystems. It gives everyone interested in the oceans—from state and federal agencies to tribes, businesses, fishermen,  and ordinary citizens—the ability to be involved in the discussion about our oceans’ future. It’s an important way to ensure a healthy ocean future for our country.

Our marine riches do not belong to just one region or one industrial sector, they belong to every American and they should be managed in the most inclusive and comprehensive manner. The Obama Administration’s National Ocean Policy and implementation plan will get us moving in the right direction.