National Ocean Policy: Bad for coastal economies

In breathtaking fashion, Washington bureaucrats have launched a concerted effort to conquer our coastlines. Before a Natural Resources Committee hearing last fall, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco assured members that President Obama’s National Ocean Policy would not grant any new federal authority or impose any new regulations on America’s fisheries. However, buried 30 pages deep in the administration’s Ocean Policy Task Force report was language permitting additional “regulations, where appropriate, that include enforcement as a critical component.”

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The steady expansion of regulatory control over our oceans kills jobs and crushes coastal economies. There is no better example of this than the expansion of catch share programs, a cap-and-trade style of fisheries management that rations the amount of fish that can be caught each year. By gifting a select few with shares of the annual allowable catch, NOAA is privatizing access to a once open fishery. This could force many recreational and small scale fishermen to give up their livelihood altogether.

Making matters worse, we are dealing with unreliable science that attempts to determine the universe of fish and count the fish that recreational anglers catch. “Fatally flawed” is the term used by the National Research Center to describe the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistical Survey. Congress mandated that the survey be replaced in 2009, but NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service have failed to correct the data.

In response to the administration’s inertia, Congress has taken action on behalf of our anglers. Last fall I led a coalition of coastal congressional members to fight the expansion of catch share programs and insisted that federal funds not be allocated for catch share programs until congressionally-mandated scientific improvements are met.

We must end the days of NOAA asking Congress for more money to improve scientific data collection and then reallocating those same funds to implement catch shares. We cannot afford to stand by and watch NOAA destroy America’s coastal economies, and certainly not at the expense of the taxpayers.

This spring, as families turn their attention back to their boats and tackle preparation, we are reminded that we must remain ever vigilant in preserving these God given freedoms that we are so blessed to enjoy.

Rep. Steve Southerland, II (R-Fla.) is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.