Process or Proclamation?

From the South Atlantic to the western Pacific, federal marine management is a study in contrasts.

Posted on January 07, 2009

The United States has acted twice this week to impose restrictions on vast sections of ocean, dictating the future accessibility of those important resources. One action took years of scientific study and required dozens of public meetings attended by hundreds of concerned citizens, and thousands of hours of effort and organization before being implemented. The other took just months and was accomplished by the stroke of a pen. Taken together, the two recent marine management actions have cast a confusing net over the world of federal fisheries management.

In one case, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced plans to establish eight management areas off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida designed to recover stressed populations of deep-water snapper and grouper. The federal rule, prepared by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, will prohibit bottom fishing in the designated areas, but will allow trolling and surface fishing over the protected bottom habitat.
 
Designation of the areas is the result of an extensive public process over several years that included input from various user groups, including the sportfishing community and commercial fishers.
 
“We regret that past management failures have left us today with a very short list of options for recovering these important species,” said Frederic Miller, chairman of Coastal Conservation Association’s (CCA) National Government Relations Committee. “However, we recognize that properly managing long-lived, slow-growing deepwater species is a particular challenge, and the careful process that produced these management measures demonstrates exactly how these decisions should be made. The South Atlantic Council should be commended for pursuing a course of action that was based on science and invited public comment on all the various management options that were presented.”
 
The federal rule, known as Amendment 14, also includes a provision that allows for the ban on bottom fishing in affected areas to be reviewed, adjusted and ultimately lifted when the science indicates that populations of snapper and grouper have recovered enough to satisfy the management goals. The designated areas range from nine to 30 nautical miles offshore and vary in size from 50 to 500 nautical square miles.
 
“It should never be an easy or quick decision to close public waters to the public, but unfortunately there are situations where that is the best management tool available to recover certain marine resources,” said David Cummins, president of CCA. “When we are presented with that situation, it demands a thorough, open process guided by science to develop the trust and support of everyone involved in the fishery. We hope the process that developed Amendment 14 can serve as a blueprint for the careful use of closed areas in fisheries management in the future.”
 
In stark contrast, the President recently announced the creation of marine monuments in the western Pacific, marking the second time in two years that the rarely used Antiquities Act has been used to create a marine monument.
 
“The Antiquities Act is sparse on process. In fact, it has none,” said Matthew Paxton, federal lobbyist for CCA. “The law in its entirety is roughly one page long and has four sections, one of which provides absolute discretion for the President to establish national monuments. There is no NEPA process, no opportunity for public comment and no chance for judicial review. This is dramatically different than the process used by the South Atlantic Council.”
 
The Bush Administration used the Act in 2006 to create the Northern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, at the time the largest marine reserve in the world. Earlier this week, the Administration used the Act once again to declare marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean at three other locations: Rose Atoll, the Marianas Trench and the Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA). The new monuments will span more than 195,000 square miles.
 
“No matter how noble the intention, management by proclamation is not the way to properly manage our oceans,” said Miller. “These are staggeringly large areas of ocean that have been summarily taken out of any public process. The Antiquities Act discounts the importance of receiving critical input from all user groups and providing a comprehensive evaluation of alternatives before any restricted area is put in place. Using the Antiquities Act as a convenient and expeditious way to lock up the marine environment runs counter to the entire conservation ethic.”
 
The Northern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was created as a no-fishing zone and allows neither commercial nor recreational fishing. In announcing the new marine monuments, the President cited a recent Executive Order requiring that recreational fishing be managed as a sustainable activity in such areas, but a final decision on whether or not to allow it in the new marine monuments could be years away. 
 
CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH