• President’s plan to ‘zone the ocean’ is out of line (Shore News Today)

    by: Shore News Today

    Tuesday, 11 October 2011 08:55
    Ann Richardson

    Earning a living in coastal South Jersey has never been easy. This resort area offers many lifestyle advantages but outside the tourism industry opportunities are lacking.

    So every time a bureaucrat dreams up a new tax or regulation making it harder to do business, you have to wonder whose side they’re on.

    While every segment of the tourism industry seems to be in the cross hairs, recreational fishing is a big target. In the on-going drama of regulating one of our favorite pastimes, a bi-partisan mix of coastal legislators defend the industry while another group is seemingly trying to kill it. Fortunately, anglers are well-represented by New Jersey’s Barnegat-based Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).

    What impacts recreational fishing affects all of us. We’re all dependent on tourism. A press release from the RFA on the “Top 10 Things” you need to know about President Obama’s plan to zone the oceans caught my eye. The RFA hates this idea, for good reasons. Zone the ocean? Seriously?

    Without Congressional approval or specific statutory authority, Obama signed Executive Order 13547 to unilaterally implement a new National Ocean Policy. Signed on July 19, 2010 it’s a new regulatory layer that could significantly impact the way we use and manage our oceans.

    The administration is implementing a mandatory Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning initiative to “zone” the oceans. The RFA says it’s another example of the Obama administration imposing burdensome federal regulations and policies hindering economic growth.

    Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing entitled “The President’s New National Ocean Policy – A Plan for Further Restrictions on Ocean, Coastal and Inland Activities.” It’s all about jobs.

    According to Jim Hutchinson, managing director for the RFA, committee members are angry. Obama used presidential privilege to circumvent the legislative process

    “Rep. Sam Farr of California has been pushing this ideological hogwash through the House for nearly 10 years, but every time his doomsday bill gets debated in committee it is tossed out for being utter nonsense and a bureaucratic nightmare,” said James Donofrio, executive director for the RFA.

    Known as Oceans 21, this legislation had a handful of supporters “who truly believe that our government needs more anti-representative bureaucracy,” said Donofrio. The RFA and others fought hard to defeat this unnecessary bill in the past, he said.

    The committee never supported Oceans 21, and the RFA, he said, applauded Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) for taking this initiative to task in an open forum “for all to view.”

    Saltwater anglers, Hutchinson noted, are not the only ones worried about the presidential edict.

    “Liberal Democrats in California kept coming back with this, and others said ‘go away, we don’t need more bureaucracy,’” said Hutchinson. “It was a failure for 10 years, they kept throwing it out, but now we have to wait for a new president. This will have a big impact for every coastal community. It’s a bad bill, it’s loaded with bureaucracy. This president doesn’t know anything about the coastal environment. This is not the way government is supposed to work. Why have a House and Senate if King Obama can come along and change things? Government is sometimes tedious and burdensome but it is what our founding fathers envisioned. The RFA can’t wait until 2012.”

    Obama’s executive order would super-cede the federal fisheries law, which the RFA and coastal legislators are trying to fix.

    While the RFA wants less, not more regulation, they want the ocean protected from extremes on both ends. They don’t want a “Drill Baby Drill” president to push them aside for oil exploration anymore than they want Obama shutting them down for wind mills and green jobs.

    “We want a moderate, sensible approach,” said Hutchinson. “We don’t want a ‘touchy, feely’ approach, a National Ocean Czar. We want common sense, not wide swings in ideology.”

    Local legislators have been very supportive, he said, but get beyond the coast and trouble is brewing.

    “We’ve had our troubles in New Jersey, but we’re working together,” he said. “In the national arena we have gridlock. We need a new president to get out of this.”

    Wind mill manufacturers, he said, are given millions in subsidies for wind farms and other green projects.

    “The jury is out about energy off the coast,” he said. “They have to lay cable in the ocean to do that, and where are you going to put the wind mill? Are they going to say you can’t fish there? What if they put it in an area where we’ve been fishing for years? Is the windmill worth cutting us off?”

    The Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning initiative, he said, is all about “ocean ownership.”

    “The fishermen say no one owns the ocean, we all should enjoy it,” said Hutchinson. “We want a healthy, sustainable area. Now they have policy to say who owns the ocean. What areas will be leased back to a green company? They kick us off the water for green energy? This should worry everyone.”

    If the recent Solyndra debacle doesn’t worry us about government subsidizing private industry, there is no hope.

    “Who gets to decide? That’s a big concern for all Americans, it won’t stop at the coast,” he said. “Do they say ‘you get this, we get that’ and play nice, guys?”

    Mandatory ocean zoning involves up to 27 federal agencies and will cost the taxpayers millions, if not billions, in federal spending and could place huge portions of the ocean off limits to all types of recreational and commercial activities, said Hutchinson. Jobs are at stake. Ocean zoning has the potential to damage more than tourism. Millions of jobs contributing trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy could be affected if fishing is further restricted, he said.

    This new “ocean zoning” authority would allow federally-dominated Regional Planning Bodies to reach as far inland as it deems necessary to protect ocean ecosystem health. It could impact all activities that occur on lands adjacent to rivers, tributaries or watersheds that drain into the ocean.

    “It’s not just the ocean, it’s far-reaching,” Hutchinson said.

    More worrisome, it involves vague and undefined objectives, goals, and policies that could be used as fodder for lawsuits to stop or delay federally-permitted activities.

    The Regional Planning Bodies created will have no representation by the people, communities and businesses that will actually be impacted by the regulations, Hutchinson said. These “heavily federal bodies” will create zoning plans without any stakeholders, yet all federal and state agencies and the regulated communities will be bound by the plan, he said.

    The impacts of this new regulatory layer contribute to an uncertain regulatory climate hindering economic activity and job creation. Even the Interagency Task Force recognized this potential in their report stating, “The Task Force is mindful that these recommendations may create a level of uncertainty and anxiety among those who rely on these resources and may generate questions about how they align with existing processes, authorities, and budget challenges. The National Ocean Council will address questions and specifics as implementation progresses.”

    In other words: don’t worry, trust us.

    “They just want us to trust them?” Hutchinson asked.

    Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation designed to amend the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011 (HR 3061) would extend the authorized time period for rebuilding certain overfished fisheries, while also calling on the scientific and statistical committees to provide regional fishery management councils with annual reports on the process used in their recommendations.

    Hutchinson said this legislation is vitally important.

    “The federal fisheries law is broken,” he said. “The radical environmental community wants to kick us off the water. Pallone says they are wrong. This legislation has bi-partisan support. Rep. Pallone has a great environmental record. It’s a good bill for South Jersey.”

    Hutchinson said a “terrible season,” with lots of little fish and few keepers, means reform is critical. Fishermen are complaining about lost access to healthy sea bass among other fish. Restrictions and closures threaten jobs, he said.

    “Speaker John Boehner said ‘bring us a jobs issue and we will move it forward,’” said Hutchinson. “This is a jobs issue. When you don’t have fishermen out on the water drifting in the channels you don’t have fishermen in the restaurants or supporting the bait and tackle shops. It’s all about jobs, it affects the whole region.”

    Anglers, he said, have been monitored using arbitrary, random survey collection models, not concise weight measures. Overly burdensome management measures have not worked, leading to a “train wreck” in fishing communities.

    “This bill will create not only the flexibility needed to responsibly manage fisheries but will also improve transparency in the fisheries management process, provide a mechanism to mitigate the real economic impacts fishermen and coastal businesses face and improve access to healthy fish stocks in a way that balances sustainability with uncertainty in science and management that is used to reduce access,” Pallone said.

    “We need this bill to pass and Obama’s executive order thrown out before anything more is implemented,” said Hutchinson. “It’s tied together. We need to reform the federal fisheries law and we don’t need to zone the ocean.”

    Hutchinson said he is driven and motivated by a picture he keeps on his desk, of his grandfather, Ocean City’s Captain Jim Becotte. The late Ocean City High School wood shop teacher was a passionate angler who had a big influence on Hutchinson.

    “He’s rolling over in his grave, that they could zone the ocean,” said Hutchinson. “I think about my grandparents, and then my children. We want to leave the Earth and the oceans better than we found them, but to give away the ocean? I can’t fish or kayak because of green energy? Are they nuts? That’s what it’s all about.”

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