While we can appreciate the skepticism from many, last week’s op-ed from the leader of the National Aquarium on a proposed designation of the Baltimore Canyon as an Urban Marine Sanctuary was significant.
Heading into the new year, this will be one of the major stories for the area. In an opinion piece headlined “Finding Common Ground On The Ocean Floor” sent to local media last week, National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli wrote the effort would be abandoned without community backing for NOAA creating the national marine sanctuary in the Baltimore Canyon.
In the piece essentially addressed to detractors in the fishing industry, Racanelli wrote, “We stand ready to work with you. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: clean, safe, fishable waters for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. As I’ve said, the National Aquarium would never support any new restrictions or limitations on current activities in the waters of the Canyon, such as recreational and commercial fishing, boating, diving and other marine tourism activities. … I look forward to meeting and engaging with anyone who has concerns about this well-intentioned proposal. If, in fact, we come to agreement that a national marine sanctuary is not the best way forward, I will ask that our application be withdrawn.”
If that’s lip service, as some skeptics maintain, or a smokescreen, as others contend, the National Aquarium will be held accountable. The good news is I don’t think it is a gibberish meant to give a false sense of security because there’s too much to lose and too many people monitoring the situation.
Along with segments of the recreational and commercial fishing industries, elected officials on the local, state and federal level are involved in monitoring this effort. A host of letters has been sent to the governor and even the new administration regarding the proposed designation.
We believe the national marine sanctuary designation comes with good intentions. The aquarium wants to ensure resource drilling and fracking is not permitted in the Baltimore Canyon as a result of “ancient deep-sea corals and cold methane seeps, which support a rich web that’s irresistible to migrating sportfish and billfish,” according to Racanelli’s letter.
We understand that motivation, but the fact is there are safeguards in place already. An argument could be made there are so many restrictions already it’s difficult to keep track of which one is serving what purpose.
Earlier this month, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a joint decision to create a 38,000 square mile offshore protected area in federal waters off the mid-Atlantic coast for deep-sea corals. Additionally, President Obama issued an order protecting 3.8 million acres of ocean off the mid-Atlantic from drilling last week.
The sanctuary proposal for the Baltimore Canyon is an effort worthy of being abandoned. A proper “agreement” among supporters and opponents is not realistic. If the aquarium is sincere when it states it will not move forward with this effort without the support of all impacted parties, withdrawing the proposal will become a reality next year.