Op-ed: The ocean is like the blind men’s elephant

The Northeast Ocean Data Portal hosts thousands of datasets, including information on commercial fishing.

The following is an excerpt of an op-ed by John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. The op-ed originally appeared in The Cape Cod Times.

When I think of the ocean I am reminded of the famous Indian parable: Six blind men attempt to imagine and describe an elephant by touch – the tusk, a stout leg, the flexible trunk, the fanlike ear and so on. They argue over what a monstrous thing it might be until a wise man points out that while each perspective has merit, until they share their views none will perceive the full picture.

Ocean planning is that wise perspective that perceives the full picture of the marine environment, and this winter, the Northeast Ocean Plan, the nation’s first regional plan, has been formalized. Now we can begin to see and manage our ocean resources with a new, comprehensive understanding.

Before ocean planning, we fishermen saw the ocean’s resources differently than did a telecommunications company wanting to lay underwater cables, or the U.S. Coast Guard concerned with search, rescue and security. We saw the ocean differently than did recreational boating organizations with high-value tourist regattas, or environmentalists and scientists working to preserve submarine ecosystems and biodiversity.

In our version of the six blind men, I joined a wide range of state and federal leaders, tribal authorities, the New England Fishery Management Council and thousands of ocean users spanning many marine disciplines to develop a plan; in doing so, we learned much about our ocean. We each started from our own specific experience and, through discussions and presentations, we contributed to a new data portal. Layer upon layer, we saw information from different perspectives. We couldn’t help but realize how little we knew of one another and how important all our different uses are. We began to draw connections, see relationships and impacts. It was astounding to realize how much is simultaneously occurring in our marine waters.

Many of us were humbled, me among them.

Ocean planning also illuminated another fallacy…continue reading here.


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