The United States used to be a laggard in managing ocean fisheries. Popular and valuable fish got pushed to the brink of collapse and others seemed poised to follow. But this year, the US established itself as a global leader in the effort to restore healthy fish populations: It became the first nation in the world to set annual catch limits for every federally managed fish species—more than 500 kinds of fish.
Now many of our nation’s ocean fish are on a path to recovery. After decades of dire reports and downward trends, America finally has a good fish tale to tell.
NOAA Administrator Dr Jane Lubchenco is one of the driving forces behind this turnaround. Throughout her time at NOAA, she has emphasized that fisheries management must be based on the best available science.
Lubchenco has announced that she will soon be leaving her post as head of NOAA after four years of commendable service. I hope her tenure will remind our leaders that science can help tackle some of our toughest challenges. Surely in 21st Century America we deserve nothing less.
Commitment to science shines through Lubchenco’s work. Her decisions are guided by the data. She offers careful and deliberative insights shaped by the evidence before her. And she has emphasized the important role of science throughout NOAA decision making.
I met Lubchenco several years ago, but I worked closely with her when I served on the President’s Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. While America watched in horror as 170 million gallons of Louisiana crude flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, Lubchenco and her team toiled around the clock to guide our nation’s emergency response, track the oil, and get cleanup crews where they were needed most. She also got research vessels out onto the water to gather as much data as possible about what the oil was doing to marine ecosystems. That information will be critical in helping restore the Gulf.
Sadly not all leaders share Lubchenco’s commitment to science. She began her tenure at NOAA just as attacks on climate science were heating up. Yet Lubchenco refused to back down from the evidence. She nurtured research on climate change within NOAA, and she proposed creating a national climate service akin to the national weather service.
She also made NOAA a leader in the emerging issue of ocean acidification. The same carbon pollution that causes climate change also changes the chemistry of ocean waters, making it more acidic and harder for organisms to form shells. Shellfish farms in the Pacific Northwest have already experienced losses of 70 to 80 percent of oyster larvae as a result of ocean acidification.
Lubchenco understands that acidification has enormous implications for America’s marine ecosystems and those who depend on those systems for their livelihoods. Under her watch, an excellent national ocean acidification program was born that, through research and monitoring, seeks to examine what acidification is doing to economically and ecologically important species.
Managing our ocean resources in the face of threats like acidification requires comprehensive planning. Lubchenco has been a strong proponent of the President’s National Ocean Policy, an effort that helps coordinate U.S. oceans related work and collect critical information about coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes ecosystems.
Fishermen, coastal communities, ocean lovers, and all Americans will benefit from Lubchenco’s tenure at NOAA. Hopefully, her example will inspire other government leaders to let science be their guide.