On the surface, Election Day was not a good day for the environment. The Republican leadership has stated clearly that they will use their new power – control of both chambers of Congress -- to undermine hard fought environmental protections.
We in the ocean conservation community will feel the effects from the change in leadership, as well as the loss of strong ocean champions in Congress including Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D-Colo.), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and likely a couple others where a winner has not yet been declared.
Dive deeper, however, and there are reasons for optimism.
We endorsed and supported 59 pro-ocean candidates -- so called “ocean champions”, which is the most ever in a single election. More than 50 won and will be returning with increased seniority or serving for the first time in the 114th Congress. In addition, “Ocean Enemy #1” Congressman Steve Southerland (R) from Florida was targeted because of his anti-ocean conservation track record. Gwen Graham (D)defeated Southerland last night.
Southerland’s loss underscores the potential for holding members of Congress accountable for their actions for and against oceans and ocean wildlife. The campaign waged against Southerland in Florida’s 2nd district included an effective attack from local fishermen and ocean conservationists who were unhappy with his anti-ocean antics. Important ocean and coastal issues were potentially determinative in other close races as well, especially those in coastal and Great Lakes districts and states.
Looking beyond Election Day outcomes, we are seeing growing signs that ocean issues are emerging as a place for bipartisan cooperation. On Capitol Hill, during the least productive Congress in modern history, both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation addressing the growing problem of harmful and toxic algal blooms (and President Obama signed it into law), took action on pirate fishing and other ocean issues, and the Senate ratified four ocean-related international treaties. This is modest action to be sure, but provides a path for continued progress.
We see bipartisan concern for healthy oceans and ocean wildlife because in coastal communities Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike depend on healthy oceans for jobs and a healthy local economy. According to the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, coastal counties generate more than one-third of our gross domestic product, and 69 million jobs.
We need to continue building bipartisan support, as several critical ocean issues demand attention in the coming Congress:
• Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that manages ocean fishing including essential mandates to end overfishing and rebuild depleted populations of fish;
• Continued work to eliminate illegal “pirate” fishing on the open seas, and address the well-documented problem of seafood fraud and mislabeled fish;
• Solutions to the marine debris and plastic pollution in our oceans and coastal waters that endanger wildlife and humans;
• Ocean acidification, coastal water quality, and more.
These are some of the policy changes needed to ensure healthy and thriving oceans. We are committed to working with our growing number of Democrat, Republican, and Independent ocean champions to cultivate even stronger support for smart, pragmatic ocean conservation policies. Too many voters value and depend on healthy fish and shellfish, swimmable beaches and clean coastlines for these issues to be ignored.
Wilmot is the co-founder and president of Ocean Champions, the first and only environmental organization dedicated exclusively to building political power for oceans and ocean conservation by helping elect pro-ocean candidates to the U.S. Congress.