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January 2017 Issue

Continuing the Fight for Smart
Ocean Policy and Management

By Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)
Co-Chair, U.S. House Oceans Caucus and
Member, U.S. House Appropriations Committee
Growing up along California’s Central Coast, I’ve always loved our oceans and I know how important they are for our environment, public health and economy. While I’ll always be a passionate advocate for our oceans, it’s time for me to change from where I do that advocating.

After nearly 24 years of having the honor to serve the Central Coast in the U.S. House of Representatives, and after more than 40 years in elected office, I decided it was time for me to retire to become a full-time grandparent.

I am grateful that as I leave Congress, there’s a growing resurgence of environmental activism, particularly for our oceans, and it comes at a time when we need it most. I look back with pride on all that has been done for the oceans during my career.

Sixteen years ago, I co-founded the bipartisan House Oceans Caucus to spark dialog between Republicans and Democrats on ocean issues. We’ve hosted countless briefings, discussions and events to educate and support ocean conservation and recognize those leading movements to safeguard our oceans for future generations. Despite Congress becoming more polarized over the last few years, the House Oceans Caucus has seen steady support from both sides of the aisle.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have continuously fought for robust funding for NOAA’s wet programs. In the face of fierce opposition, I have restored well more than $100 million in funding for programs such as Marine Debris, Habitat Restoration, Ocean Acidification, and Fisheries Data and Surveys. I authored the Marine Debris Act Reauthorization and amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act to strengthen fisheries management conservation. I successfully fought for increased funding for the National Sanctuary Program, for protection of the Southern Sea Otter and for protecting the California Coastal Rocks and Islands. I also ensured NOAA had the resources available and supported the expansion of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Of course, it takes far more than one person to sail a ship. President Barack Obama created the Atlantic Ocean’s first marine monument in 2016, preserving an expanse of sea canyons and underwater mountains off the New England coast. He also expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to an area twice the size of Texas—now the world’s largest marine protected area. In total, President Obama has protected more land and water than any other administration.

Despite such steps forward in ocean management, we absolutely must keep up the fight to protect our Earth’s greatest natural resource, not to mention the 3 million jobs and the $360 billion blue economy it supports.

Ocean Acidification
Scientific experts have been telling us for years that ocean acidification (OA) is a growing ecological and economic disaster. Two-thirds of our nation’s GDP is produced in coastal zones, according to the Center for the Blue Economy. As OA-related problems intensify, there will be a ripple effect into other areas of our national economy. Freshwater lakes are expected to be no less impacted. Studies report that the Great Lakes will acidify at the same rate and magnitude as the ocean through 2100 due to runoff and other causes.

Many states along the West Coast, Florida, the Carolinas and those bordering the Great Lakes face significant economic losses due to OA. Its effects could gut commercially valuable shellfish populations and tourism industries.

Coral reefs in the Florida Keys are eroding due to OA. NOAA suggests that these coral reefs have an asset value of $8.5 billion, generating $4.4 billion in local sales, $2 billion in local income and more than 70,000 jobs. The shellfish industry, which generates $6 million annually in Florida alone, has also been hit hard because OA causes shellfish to grow weaker shells.

Fortunately, we have bipartisan support within Congress for combating increased OA. With Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) as co-sponsors, I introduced the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2015 (H.R. 2717) to address dire OA issues by reauthorizing research necessary for the health of our nation’s coastal and national economies. The bill would ensure funding for NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Acidification Program (IOAP), and would focus research programs on economic impacts, with the ultimate goal of keeping fisheries and aquaculture open and thriving, keeping fishermen employed, and enhancing our nation’s blue economy.

I have used the FOARAM reauthorization bill to raise awareness of the problem of OA, yet the seriousness of this problem often falls on deaf ears in Congress. If we truly want to stop the oceans from becoming more acidic and damaging our nation’s economy and public health, citizen advocates and scientists will need to speak up to spread knowledge and understanding of the issue to our policy makers.

National Ocean Policy and the Blue Economy
To focus the attention of ocean needs, I invited then President Bill Clinton to attend the First National Ocean Conference in Monterey, California, in 1998. Following this watershed conference with President Clinton and many of his cabinet members, I authored the Ocean Act, which largely took recommendations from the conference. This legislation, which was enacted in 2000, created a 16-member U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. Following that success, I introduced several oceans bills based on more policy proposals from the commission to further protect our oceans. These subsequent legislative efforts were met with resistance in Congress, but I’m very proud that the Obama Administration included many of the principles from my bills in the 2010 Executive Order on National Ocean Policy (NOP), which provides much-needed coordination across ocean policy, science and management agencies.

Since the Executive Order establishing an NOP was signed, I’ve fought against proposals in the U.S. House of Representatives to dismantle NOP and block implementation of the common-sense coordination. Opponents of NOP claim that it creates red tape and causes over-regulation. Despite what its detractors say, the NOP is not about increasing federal regulation. Instead, it simply creates coordination between the varying ocean management agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Through increased communication and planning, we can more efficiently manage our ocean resources to create more jobs in the blue economy. The NOP does not cost the government anything, and it does not supersede any local or state regulations, or create any new federal regulations. The fundamental role of the NOP is to create a mechanism by which the numerous ocean agencies, departments, working groups and committees can coordinate and communicate to manage more efficiently.

The result is “ground up”—not “top down”—opportunities for locals to have input to local and regional resource management policies. In doing so, not only does the NOP provide greater local say in management, but it also results in a stronger return on investment of taxpayer resources. NOP has already proven its effectiveness in the Northeast, where stakeholders in offshore wind development, infrastructure projects and the first-ever offshore mussel aquaculture facility utilized the tools of the NOP to leverage millions of dollars of private investment and create jobs.

The American ocean economy generates $360 billion a year, putting 3 million Americans to work in ocean-related industries such as shipping, marine construction, energy development, defense operations, commercial fishing, boating, aquaculture and tourism. These jobs and the economic wealth the ocean generates are spread out all across the nation, not just in coastal communities. With so many livelihoods dependent on the success of these numerous and disparate ocean-related industries, we should embrace the NOP, not attack it through misguided policy proposals and misinformation.

A thriving blue economy is only possible with a well-managed, healthy ocean. Everyone can make a difference, everyone has a role to play, and everyone has an impact on science and ocean policy. Now, more than ever, policy makers at all levels of government need to hear more from not just scientists and environmentalists, but also advocates. As I step into retirement from Congress, I urge each and every one of you to continue fighting for ocean stewardship and to do your part to ensure our oceans are protected.

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