President’s Plan To Zone Ocean Debated

OCEAN CITY – President
Obama this week signed an executive order establishing a National Ocean Policy
that could effectively result in vast areas of ocean benig zoned to prohibit
some recreational and commercial activities while encouraging others.

Based on the
recommendations of the Interagency Task Force on Ocean Policy, created last
June to explore the many uses of the oceans off the nation’s coastline from
offshore drilling and alternative energy development to shipping and commercial
and recreational fishing and boating, Obama on Monday issued an executive order
calling for the creation of a national stewardship policy that could include a
somewhat controversial “marine spatial zoning” of the seas off the nation’s
coasts including Ocean City and the mid-Atlantic.

Ironically, the effort
to explore the possibility of zoning the nation’s oceans was set in motion long
before the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the timing of the
president’s executive order calling for the establishment of a National Ocean
Policy is not coincidental. Calling the BP oil spill a “stark reminder of how
vulnerable our marine environments are,” the task force’s recommendations to
the president call for the creation of a National Ocean Council, an
organization of stakeholders to coordinate the regulation of the ocean along
the nation’s coastlines.

A pillar of the
recommendations is the creation of a plan to implement the same type of
planning and zoning practices applied on land to open areas of ocean off the
coast. In essence, if the plan comes to fruition, some areas of ocean could be
zoned to allow for industrial uses such as offshore drilling, shipping and
alternative energy, while others could be set aside only for recreational uses
such as fishing or boating.

More simply put, while
industrial and commercial interests share the open ocean with recreational uses
such as fishing and boating in a sort of peaceful coexistence, the president’s
plan for a national ocean policy including marine spatial zoning could create a
grid of sorts off the coast where some activities are allowed and other are
not. Already, the plan has received mixed reviews from the public and private

While no one will likely
dispute the plan’s intentions, especially in light of tragic oil spill
situation, many have already voiced concern an effort to zone the ocean could
have serious economic and social impacts. For example, the National Ocean
Policy Coalition this week penned a letter to the president asking for serious
consideration for the preservation of public access to the ocean.

“It is essential that
the new National Ocean Policy be based on expansive input from ocean users and
be fully vetted regarding potential harm to economic and recreational
activities prior to implementation,” the letter from the National Ocean Policy
Coalition reads. “We seek to ensure that a National Ocean Policy will enhance
the public’s ability to utilize the oceans and their critical resources in a
way that provides maximum benefit to the economic and societal interests of the
American people.”

The coalition asks the
president and his task force to ensure recreational stakeholders have a seat at
the table with commercial and industrial users if and when it comes time to
draw up the maps.

“Our government should
encourage fishing, boating, hunting and being outdoors as activities that are
healthy and can provide well-being for individuals and families alike,” the
letter reads. “Our oceans are a place of natural beauty that should be enjoyed
by all and public access to public resources should not just be maintained but

Meanwhile, the American
Sportfishing Association (ASA) also urged the National Ocean Policy task force,
charged with developing a plan to zone the ocean, to consider the economic and
social impacts of closing certain areas to recreational uses such as fishing
and boating, for example. ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman urged the task
force to keep an open seat at the table for the sportfishing and recreational
sector when it comes time to drawing maps and creating zones.

“We are pleased to see
that the task force included recreational fishing and boating as part of the
National Ocean Policy,” said American Sportfishing Association president and
CEO Mike Nussman this week. “However, we wish that the task force would have
gone further and established public access to these great resources as a
national priority. It is vital that we remain vigilant and involved in the
design and implementation process. Closing our public resources to recreational
activities can have a devastating impact on businesses and livelihoods that are
dependent on those activities, as evidenced by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill,”
said Nussman.

Others praised the plan
to take a comprehensive look at a national ocean policy.

“Our planet is 70
percent blue, and our national economic and environmental policies should keep
it that color,” said Chris Mann, senior officer
for the Pew Environment Group. “Whether it’s recovering from the devastating
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reducing
polluted runoff or protecting important marine and coastal habitat, we have a
lot of work ahead of us to achieve that goal.”