Almost overnight, an annual spending bill that should be a routine affair has become a smorgasbord of rollbacks of ocean protections. The House of Representatives is currently voting on an appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. Going into debate, President Obama was already concerned that funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t going to be high enough to allow the agency to fulfill its vital mission, but on the floor of the House, Representatives aren’t satisfied with taking the ocean’s lunch money and are going for some more serious bullying.
First and foremost is the blocking of any and all attempts to better coordinate how the government both uses and protects the ocean. Congressman Flores of Texas introduced an amendment that blocks implementation of the National Ocean Policy which at its heart simply encourages better coordination for all the things we do in the ocean. Blocking it could devastate services many businesses and communities rely on. Congressman Markey said that opposing the National Ocean Policy is like opposing air traffic control.
Earlier in the day an amendment passed from Rep. Southerland of Florida which would prevent even the consideration of catch shares programs in the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast that could more fairly manage fishing in those waters. Our own Elizabeth Fetherson told Greenwire: “Unilaterally taking these off the table and saying you can’t consider these tools is sort of unnecessarily handcuffing the fishery managers who … have been tasked with looking at the region’s needs and designing the best management plan. These are pretty valuable tools to give the commercial fishery what they want, stability and value, and still protect the resources under their mandate under the law.”
In another poke in the eye, Rep. Landry of Louisiana introduced an amendment, which passed, to block improved protections for endangered sea turtles. Just this week NOAA proposed a rule requiring that shrimp boats install “turtle excluder devices” in their nets to prevent turtles, like the endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, from getting entangled. This technology has added economics benefits of making shrimp boats more fuel efficient, and improving quality of catch—but now a loophole to the requirement will remain in place.
There were a couple of minor bright spots—a slight increase in funding for marine debris programs and regional ocean partnerships—but on balance the bill is bad news for anyone who understands how much our country depends on a healthy ocean and who cares about ocean wildlife.
The good news is that this bill is not done, and must still go through the Senate as well where hopefully cooler heads and a more balanced approach to ocean protection can prevail.