The bill was inspired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to give up on a failed 25-year policy – supported by commercial fishing interests – of trying to stop otters heading south. Past captures and relocations killed a number of young otters trying to colonize new territory. But in recent years, the small population around Monterey has failed to grow and so is at risk of extinction should a major oil spill or other disaster strike.
The bill claims that if the otters are allowed to establish a new population off someplace like Malibu, then they’ll interfere with military exercises. Six months ago, I spent time with the Navy and Marines training off Southern California and not one sailor or Marine expressed fear of otters to me. In fact, they got kind of excited when we’d spot dolphins, whales and sunfish in the waters off our ship.
Still, a California sea urchin diver told a House committee, “We need to balance the needs of all species, including human beings.” Apparently California’s sea otters, now numbering around 2,700, threaten to crowd out California’s 37 million people. The citizens group Friends of the Sea Otter calls Gallegly’s bill “dangerously counter-productive.”
It’s stories like this that make one wish that President Obama’s National Ocean Policy, which he signed in the wake of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, would get implemented sooner rather than later. This initiative, after all, is based on the recommendations of two blue-ribbon commissions, one appointed by President George W. Bush and the other headed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
It aims to resolve conflicts among different ocean users and would do so by getting more than 20 federal agencies with licensing and other ocean authority to eliminate their conflicting mandates on ocean management, reduce bureaucratic redundancies and work with regional groups to embrace local solutions to ensure healthy and productive seas. Perhaps sound ocean planning that balances economic activity and ecosystem services can be one of those rare bipartisan causes we can all embrace.
Or perhaps not.
Earlier this month on almost straight party lines, the House passed 246-174 a Commerce Department budget amendment proposed by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to eliminate any funding for the National Ocean Policy. Flores, whose major campaign contributor is the oil and gas industry, was following the lead of House Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., whose major contributor is also oil and gas. Hastings calls the president’s ocean policy “mandatory ocean zoning … to block economic activity.”
We know whose economic activity he’s talking about. While many ocean interests, such as offshore wind energy development, ports and shipping, fishing captains, scientists, environmentalists and various states support the policy, the oil and gas industry does not. It has created a front group, the National Ocean Policy Coalition out of Houston, which opposes the president’s ocean policy because, unlike everyone else willing to come to the table to try to better manage our public seas, it already has priority seating.
If we want to see healthy populations of marine wildlife along our coasts and expanded opportunities for people to enjoy ocean recreation, transportation, trade, energy, food, medicine, security and a sense of awe and wonder from sea to shining sea, we need to understand that the ocean belongs to all of us – not a single industry or interest.
We also all share responsibility for its health. The National Ocean Policy is a good first step to support, as is letting otters swim free.
David Helvarg is an author and executive director of the Blue Frontier Campaign. His book, “The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair With the Sea,” will be out in 2013.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/27/ED2N1OKFMM.DTL#ixzz1wBVaBsBv