When President Obama released his budget proposal to Congress this week, his message to Congress was clear: “[Create] an economy that is built to last.” Unfortunately for our coasts and oceans—and the millions of Americans who depend on these resources to make their living—the Administration’s proposed budget would reduce funding for important coastal and marine programs, threatening American jobs in fishing, tourism, and recreation. With many fisheries in trouble and the health of our oceans in decline, now is not the time to cut funding for programs that safeguard our marine resources and the economic growth they support.
For more than four decades, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has worked to manage fisheries, restore coastal areas, and support marine commerce. As NOAA officials know well, our oceans are vital to our national economic growth. In 2009 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation generated more than 1.8 million jobs and contributed more than $61 billion to the nation’s GDP. That same year, the commercial fishing industry supported more than 1 million jobs.
In fact, compared with the entire U.S. farm sector, our ocean economy is larger and employs more Americans.
Building a sustainable economy means keeping the resources we depend on healthy and thriving. And with our ocean resources facing an already turbulent future, protecting marine life, critical habitat, and ocean ecosystems is more important than ever.
Already in the U.S., 23% of major fisheries are overfished and 16% subject to overfishing. Toxic chemicals, oil, and waste contaminate our beaches and coastal waters, hurting the tourism industry and creating dead zones like that in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered an area the size of New Jersey in 2010. Worldwide, one third of shallow water corals are at risk of extinction, a fate that would have huge ramifications for thousands of species up and down the food chain.
Funding levels for many programs aimed at reversing this decline have been going down since FY 2010. Now the President’s budget proposal would deliver even more cuts to programs that protect and restore coastal and marine habitat, protect estuaries and coastal lands, and rehabilitate marine mammals. Programs that are being cut include:
- The Habitat Conservation and Restoration Program, which has restored more than 69,000 acres of coastal and marine habitat since 1996 and protected nearly 980 million acres of fish habitat from impacts of fishing gear since 2000. Currently the program is planning restoration in coastal areas affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
- The National Estuarine Research Reserves System , which encompasses 28 estuarine research reserves nationwide that have been established for long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship.
- The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELP), which protects coastal and estuarine lands considered important for their ecological, conservation, recreational, historical or aesthetic values. To date, the program has protected nearly 75,000 acres of coastal land.
- Marine Mammal Recovery Grants, which provide funding for the recovery and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals.
- Marine Debris Program supports national and international efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris
It’s important to note that some projects under NOAA are not feeling the heat. The White House’s proposal includes major funding for NOAA’s satellite program, which aids in weather predictions and atmospheric monitoring. While this program is vital to our understanding of atmospheric changes, satellite funding should not come with the price tag of sacrificing our coastal and marine resources.
The proposed budget cuts represent a double- whammy for NOAA, coming on the heels of the Administration’s earlier announcement that it wanted to move the agency to the Interior Department as part of a more general reorganization plan.
In the interest of all Americans—from Louisiana fishermen to hotel owners in California—Congress should support a strong NOAA to effectively monitor and help manage our oceans, coasts, and fisheries. Achieving a sustainable, growing economy means ensuring that we have clean water, clean beaches, and abundant fish and wildlife, now and for generations to come.