Thursday, July 12, 2012

More than 40 Years in the Struggle for Ocean Policy

Seaweb staff recently attended a panel discussion of the history of U.S. ocean policy since key environmental regulations in the early 1970s held during Capital Hill Ocean Week.

On the celebration of World Oceans Day - June 8 – and in support of a healthy, vibrant ocean, it is important to reflect on past challenges and accomplishments that have shaped the ocean we know today.

Meg Caldwell of the Center for Ocean Solutions moderated the discussion between panelists Michael Weber of Resources Law Group, Steve Roady of Earthjustice, and Andrew Rosenberg of Conservation International.

Panelists Steve Roady and Andrew Rosenberg

From the Cold War aspiration to create NOAA as the United States’ “wet NASA” in the competition for dominance in ocean science and technology to the fundamental shift from commercial to existence value for marine mammals heralded by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the panel spoke to the changes in marine policies that form the backbone of current ocean governance. Weber highlighted several key accomplishments made possible by government regulations, such as publicly operated waste treatment plants, the end of ocean dumping, the recovery of several key fish stocks, and the rehabilitation of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles.

Rosenberg emphasized how contentious it can be to turn sweeping language from Congress into quantifiable limits, such as in the recent disagreements over what it means for a stock to be “overfished.” In addition, he stressed the importance of separating scientific choices—based on fisheries’ statistics, for example— from societal choices dictated by the views, wants, and needs of the people that may be unrelated to scientific data.

Changing societal views in order to build support for ocean policies, according to Roady, can be achieved through education of American citizens, and their ability to recognize the connection between daily actions and the associated impact on marine environments.

“If the public understood that dumping fertilizers into a river in Iowa affects the Gulf of Mexico, there may be the public support needed for representatives to vote for protection policies,” Roady said.