National Ocean Policy

National Ocean Policy

In June 2009, President Obama created the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, which was charged with drafting a national ocean policy for conserving and managing the United States ocean territory and the Great Lakes. This complex policy has created significant concern within the recreational fishing community, as it includes concepts that could set the foundation for closing public access and recreational fishing. Sportfishing is an integral part of coastal economies throughout this nation and therefore should be included as a priority in any national ocean policy. As with any good federal policy decision, discussions about measures that may restrict public access to public resources must involve an open public process, a solid scientific basis and specific guidelines on implementation and follow-up.

The National Ocean Policy, established by Presidential Executive Order in 2010, called for forming nine Regional Planning Bodies (RPB) to better manage the nation’s oceans and coastlines. New England was the first region in the nation to launch a RBP in November 2012 and complete a draft plan, which came out in June 2016. The Northeast RPB includes representatives from the six New England states, ten federally recognized tribes, ten federal agencies, and the New England Fishery Management Council. Since inception, ASA and others in the recreational fishing and boating community have remained engaged in the planning process to ensure that recreational fishing opportunity is not harmed through the planning process. In a letter to NOAA, ASA expressed that the Northeast Region’s ocean plan takes a pragmatic approach to improving agency coordination and sharing data to conserve marine resources. However, ASA has concerns about the priority to identify “Important Ecological Areas,” which, absent clear goals, could potentially lead to regulations that effect fishing access. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean released its own draft plan in August 2016. ASA will submit comments.

Our Position

ASA and others in the recreational fishing and boating community have continuously expressed concerns about how recreational access will be treated in the planning process. Because of the lack of acknowledgement of the importance of maintaining and enhancing recreational fishing opportunity, coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) as outlined in the National Ocean Policy carries the potential to unnecessarily restrict recreational fishing access. Despite continued comments by ASA and the recreational fishing community, the policy does not provide acknowledgment of the need to designate public access to fishing, boating and other recreational activities as priority uses, consistent with the Obama Administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative.

Issue Background

It is a long-standing policy of the federal government to allow public access to public lands and waters for recreational purposes consistent with sound conservation. This policy is reflected in the principles of our wildlife refuges, national forests, national parks and wilderness areas, and should be reflected in a national policy for the oceans and Great Lakes. The ability of recreational anglers to use public marine resources should be as strong as the ability of hunters and anglers to use public lands.

In July 2010, the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, released its final report, with the stated goals of ensuring protection, maintenance and restoration of the nation's oceans, coastal areas and the Great Lakes. Following the release of the new report, President Obama issued an Executive Order to implement the policies in the report. The Executive Order included the creation of a National Ocean Council to guide the implementation of the national ocean policy and nine regional advisory committees to direct the development of regional coastal and marine spatial plans.

While the final report acknowledges the importance of promoting recreational fishing and stewardship as an important national ocean policy objective, there are still many unanswered questions about how recreational interests will be incorporated in the process of allocating areas of the oceans for specific uses and what level of priority recreational activities will receive.

In April 2013, the final Implementation Plan for the National Ocean Policy was released, which featured nine goals of the National Ocean Policy, including CMSP, a process of planning where and how uses can take place in the ocean and Great Lakes. While ASA appreciates the progress that has been made within the National Ocean Policy to recognize the important economic, cultural and conservation values of recreational fishing, ASA remains concerned about the potential for this policy to negatively impact recreational access to the nation’s marine resources.

Two regions – the northeast and mid-Atlantic – have established regional planning bodies and held initial meetings to identify general goals of the process. Other regions are in various stages of development.  In both the northeast and mid-Atlantic, initial goals and objectives have focused on issues like improving data and mapping, public input and interagency coordination.

The policy has drawn criticism from Congress, including hearings at which ASA members have testified and attempts to defund the policy through the appropriations process. ASA will continue to engage with the Administration and Congress to ensure that recreational fishing is treated as a priority activity in the national ocean policy.

New England was the first region in the nation to launch a RBP in November 2012 and complete a draft plan, which came out in June 2016. The Northeast RPB includes representatives from the six New England states, ten federally recognized tribes, ten federal agencies, and the New England Fishery Management Council. Since inception, ASA and others in the recreational fishing and boating community have remained engaged in the planning process to ensure that recreational fishing opportunity is not harmed through the planning process. In a letter to NOAA, ASA expressed that the Northeast Region’s ocean plan takes a pragmatic approach to improving agency coordination and sharing data to conserve marine resources. However, ASA has concerns about the priority to identify “Important Ecological Areas,” which, absent clear goals, could potentially lead to regulations that effect fishing access. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean released its own draft plan in August 2016. ASA will submit comments.