Congress’ Chance to Improve its Standing on Ocean Management

A view inside one of Richard Nelson's lobster traps.

The other day I had one of those subtle thoughts, that as they arrive on your conscious mind, seem to bring their own sense of profundity as to ones relationship to others in this world. That thought was, that as a fisherman, I go back and forth from home to job, as many do, but in doing that I traverse between land and its normal surroundings of houses, streets and towns etc., into what many would consider the “other worldly” realm of the ocean. To me this is a seamless transition of little note, much the everyday affair. The rest of the population, however, often show signs of either; holding the ocean in awe, almost lost in its natural wonders or “Blueness”; or as others are, tragically, all too willing to disregard the ocean’s importance to us altogether.

This brings me back to the realities of the day, as we see that Congress is living up to its presently poor reputation by showing signs of being in the latter group. Congress is now considering the final version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that contains two significant ocean provisions. The first is the National Endowment for the Oceans, a bipartisan effort to set up an endowment supporting work by state, regional, tribal and federal entities, as well as nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. The endowment will assist these groups when undertaking activities that protect ocean resources.  The endowment will also assist groups with developing the baseline science, monitoring, and observation data to create better ocean uses that will create jobs and support coastal economies. NEO is included in the Senate version of the bill and should be included in the final WRDA bill.

Also in the debate is a rider to the WRDA bill, which would prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from any implementation of the National Ocean Policy. The National Ocean Policy establishes the formation of Regional Ocean Planning Bodies to help local and state priorities be matched up with and coordinated with the multiple agencies that have influence over ocean matters. Regional Ocean Planning works to improve and restore the oceans’ health and, at the same time, maximize its economic benefits to our nation through an ecosystem based management approach. Regional Ocean Planning would, along with the help of the NEO, direct and fund the science, modeling and data collection necessary to make the important decisions about the oceans we will need to make. The anti-NOP rider should be removed and not included in a final WRDA bill.

A reasonable mind might believe that anything that would disconnect the realities of the ocean, recent coastal history, and climate science especially, with the agency that has such great responsibilities towards coastal resiliency would be a costly mistake. In saying this I’m not asking for Congress to necessarily join up with any “Blue” campaign, but instead, to attempt to look at ocean management with the practical eye of a Maine fisherman and support those laws that can sustain us economically and ecologically into the future.

Richard Nelson has been a commercial fisherman for over thirty years. He is a member of the Maine Lobster Association, the New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN) and a member of the Maine Regional Planning Body Advisory Group. He lives in Friendship, Maine.



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