With recent history confirming their worries are valid, members of the Ocean City fishing community have every reason to be alarmed about this week’s announcement of a plan to make an offshore fishing canyon a sanctuary.
The National Aquarium is currently seeking online support to nominate the Baltimore Canyon, a 28-mile long and five-mile wide submarine canyon three hours off Ocean City’s coast, as the country’s first Urban National Marine Sanctuary. A lot has to happen before this designation is received, including gauging public sentiment through the online petition drive, NOAA agreeing the canyon is worthy of designation, an environmental impact assessment and then a series of public hearings. This will likely take years to occur if it ever does.
However, the mere proposal of slapping a designation on the open water canyon sent fears through the fishing industry this week. The aquarium tried to get in front of those concerns by meeting with leading fishing industry representatives and elected officials before this week’s public announcement.
Included in the online petition is a phrase aimed at disarming the commercial and recreational fisheries and their concerns this designation will allow the federal government in the future the ability with a quick amendment to shutter the canyon to fishing in the name of conservation.
“Measures put in place to protect vanishing habitats are often at odds with commercial necessity and economic progress,” the petition reads. “In this case, however, what is good for the Baltimore Canyon is good for all of us. Protection of the Baltimore Canyon and surrounding waters does not call for the exclusion of the canyon from fishing or recreational use. In fact, the existing network of national marine sanctuaries supports $4 billion in marine-related economies annually and they are exceptional sites for both commercial and recreational fishing.”
Opponents or at least early critics of the designation view that statement as mere words. Instead of written guarantees, a provision included in the designation protecting fishing interests must be included, concerned industry folks maintain.
At this point, we don’t view this designation as necessary in any way. Although we admit it’s a myopic view to adopt this early on in the process, it’s too risky for the fishing industry and all the businesses, individuals and families who rely on it for their economic well beings. If one offshore canyon gets this designation, there will surely be more to come. In fact, there’s already several canyons offshore, including the Norfolk, a popular grounds for local charter boats, under consideration.
Fishermen are right to be paranoid about what the government can do in the future. An official provision in the designation stating it will not reduce or restrict fishing opportunities is indeed required, but all with a stake need to understand that can be undone.
That’s why we think this idea, while on the surface meritorious for its goal of preserving sea life and preventing obtrusive drilling in the future needs to be followed closely by this area and its elected officials.