Guest commentary: New oceans policy from Washington threatens core industries of our state

Certainly you’ve heard of a new White House plan to scrap our nation’s existing policy on oceans and replace it with one that gives the federal government sweeping new authority over their use.

I’m sure you’ve also read the actual policy document, familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of “marine spatial planning” and the mechanics involved in putting such a regime into place.

And, of course, you read the Federal Register this month and are aware that only three days remain for the public to register its views on the plan.

Wait. You hadn’t heard any of that? And you’re not one of the tiny handful people who subscribe to the Federal Register? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, at a time of unprecedented economic challenge, the oceans proposal being put forth right now in Washington is less concerned with engaging the American people than it is with quietly locking away resources that could be used to generate jobs, revenue and opportunity for Floridians.

Currently, the management of our offshore resources is handled by the Interior Department, an agency whose core mission directs it to treat the ocean and what lies within and beneath it as treasures to be accessed and enjoyed by all. Of course, the conception of our oceans as a “multi-use” environment has never sat well with the environmental lobby — which is why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was brought in to manage the plan from start to finish.

NOAA may be a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, but its institutional concern has nothing to do with jobs. Its recently released oceans policy plan included 27 mentions of the importance of “ecosystem-based management,” but not a single word in a 40-page document explaining how our people and the economy they rely on are supposed to manage under a system that explicitly targets some of the most prolific job creators in the state.

Their plan calls for nothing less than the “zoning” of our ocean areas, treating vast expanses of submerged federal tracts as if they were blight on a city block. You want to get rid of an undesirable business down the street that’s been making too much noise? Zone it off the map. You want to make sure that no energy exploration of any kind is allowed to exist, even if the department of jurisdiction — Interior — signs off on its environmental safety? Why not just do the same?

But while energy producers may be the most obvious target of this effort, the collateral damage it stands to leave behind would extend far beyond the business of oil and natural gas.

You don’t have to be an angler to know that our state takes fishing seriously. Florida is among the top five states in commercial fishing. Unfortunately, the new head of NOAA believes that fishing is “unsustainable” and that America’s fishers — large and small — are “exploiters.” Armed with near carte blanche authority over fundamental aspects of America’s oceans policy, NOAA would have all the tools it needs to take a huge bite out of Florida’s marine industries, interests like fishing, tourism and transportation responsible for generating thousands of jobs and billions of public dollars each and every year.

Of course, the reality that seems to escape the planners at NOAA is that Florida fishermen — recreational and commercial — are a big part of why the Gulf and our portion of the Atlantic are as clean as they are today. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that those who fish our waters tend to be their best stewards as well.

Where most of us see a great blue expanse, large and diverse enough to accommodate us all, NOAA sees an unruly province of which it needs to take immediate control. Whether it’s successful in doing any of that, though, will depend on the type and volume of response the plan receives from a public that’s been intentionally kept in the dark. Consider this your first ray of light. And if you care about the future of our economy and the well-being of our greatest natural asset, you’ll do your best to spread it far and wide.

Contact Bishop at

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