Why National Ocean Policy is flawed

In frequent testimony before the committee, coastal fishermen questioned the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recommendations that the NOP be enacted through the Executive Branch rather than by proper legislative process. Considering the broad implications and the hundreds of stakeholder groups which would be affected by the NOP, the most appropriate course of action should’ve been through the Legislative Branch where individual stakeholders would’ve had opportunity to discuss the virtues and flaws of the NOP in a more deliberate, transparent process.

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Enacting laws through Executive order sets a dangerous precedence, particularly when it threatens to minimize or even supersede the role of existing law, which in this case is federal fisheries law enacted in 1976 (Magnuson-Stevens Act). The NOP itself provides excessive influence to CEQ and works to further exclude much of the decision-making process at the regional fisheries management level, thereby creating a bias towards a handful of appointed, potentially connected industry and conservation groups from the Washington DC area who are removed from the day-to-day needs and concerns of coastal constituents. 

Capt. John McMurray’s recent op-ed piece provides a perfect example of the exclusionary principles of the NOP as it stands. In his editorial, Mr. McMurray explains how the NOP, “with proper stakeholder input, would actually protect habitat and access and result in the common sense management of marine resources.”  The problem of course is that the NOP is yet another law that requires politically connected appointees to government councils and commissions. The Delphi Technique of securing buy-in from the regulated community when enacting policy is grossly irresponsible, particularly when actual stakeholders are denied a seat at the table at the onset.

It has been especially tough during this Administration for properly vetted members of the coastal fishing community to secure government appointment to the regional fisheries councils as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Mr. McMurray is a prime example of the current problems with the appointment process as obligatory representative to the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) for New York. While it’s true that he does in fact run a part-time fly and light tackle guide service, Mr. McMurray’s full-time job is as grants administrator for Norcross Wildlife Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic grant-giving foundation whose specific mission is to conserve habitat for animals and plants. He is also an advisor for the Environmental Defense Fund and was appointed to his recent term on the MAFMC despite protestation from New York’s regulated fishing community and in defiance of Governor Cuomo’s preferred choice as appointment to serve as representative of the recreational fishermen. In other words, “proper stakeholder input” was ignored by the government agency responsible for making such decisions.

The argument in favor of protecting fish populations from habitat destruction and water pollution is truly admirable. However, when advocates for a cause willingly accept and promote the circumvention of the legislative process to achieve their goals, then it’s not just our oceans which are jeopardized but the very “health and benefit” of all of America.

Hutchinson, Jr. is managing director of the national Recreational Fishing Alliance and president of the New York Sportfishing Federation.

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