Trump Administration Repeals National Ocean Policy
This week, in the latest assault on our ocean, the Trump Administration repealed and replaced the National Ocean Policy. Issued under the Obama Administration, the National Ocean Policy was the first of its kind in the United States, recognizing the importance of a healthy ocean and coastal ecosystem and calling for collaboration between states, federal agencies, and tribes to improve decision-making around ocean issues – including fisheries. It was also the impetus for developing the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, which over the last year-and-a-half has served as a guide for federal agencies managing public ocean resources.
For fisheries management, we have already begun to see the benefits of the regional ocean planning process play out in region. For example, when the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) was developing the Deep-Sea Coral Amendment, fishery managers used the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, a product of the ocean planning process, to display to the public the various management alternatives under consideration. This created the opportunity for stakeholders to view the data at their own convenience and better understand how the alternatives may interact with their activities on the water.
Also, the NEFMC has had a seat at the table among other federal, state, and tribal leaders on the Northeast Regional Planning Body as they’ve discussed important ocean management issues such as compatibility between uses. This is just the cooperation that the National Ocean Policy called for in order to protect and restore a healthy ocean, enhance ocean and coastal economies, and support sustainable access and use, among other priorities.
Now, however, the Trump Administration has taken a major step backwards for the responsible stewardship of our ocean. The new Executive Order is steeped in talk of the economy, energy independence, security, and global competitiveness. It carries over some aspects of the National Ocean Policy, but leaves out any strong policy mandate for resilient ocean ecosystems, biodiversity, ecosystem-based management, and climate change considerations.
When it comes to our fisheries, this should raise some red flags. New England fisheries face increasing pressures every day – largely from human activity. Some of our stocks, such as the iconic Atlantic cod, have been overfished for decades, and our region now has more overfished stocks than any other region in the country. Additionally, as the Gulf of Maine warms faster than 99 percent of the world’s ocean, our stocks are being forced to adapt to a rapidly changing ocean ecosystem. Transitioning to ecosystem-based management, protecting ocean habitat, and preserving biodiversity has never been more important for promoting healthy fisheries and fishing communities.
The New England region has often been first out of the gate when it comes to addressing ocean issues, and we are confident that the region will continue to advance the good work that has been done to date. We need to prioritize, however, that health, sustainability, and resilience are part of that conversation moving forward. Our fisheries are a public resource, and we must work together at all levels to promote their sustainable management.