The Blog Aquatic » congress News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:21:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stop Congress from Fishing for Trouble Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:00:35 +0000 Ellen Bolen

© Wesley Hitt / Alamy

We’ve made incredible progress in reversing overfishing. This has been good for both the environment and jobs in fishing. Through smart fishery legislation, we’ve been able to bring back fish populations that were crashing due to years of overfishing.

But all of our progress is about to be destroyed! In the House of Representatives, Rep. Hastings (R-WA) is working to reverse the very legislation that has brought our ocean and fishermen such success. Rep. Hastings is trying to pass legislation that would create a new law that would allow overfishing and would eliminate deadlines to rebuild fish populations.

We can’t let this happen. Decades of progress will be reversed if this new legislation is passed. Will you help protect our ocean from overfishing?

Please take action today and tell your Congressional Representative to vote NO to Rep. Hastings’ legislation when it comes to the floor.

Healthy fish populations are essential to ocean ecosystems and to the local economies that depend on them. Please take action today! Together, we can truly make a difference.

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The Ocean in Congress this Week: Good News and Bad News Thu, 29 May 2014 17:57:06 +0000 Jeff Watters

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will debate the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill – an important bill for the ocean because it sets the annual budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many amendments will be introduced to alter the bill; as far as the oceans are concerned, there’s good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news:

On the heels of some very important steps to tackle ocean acidification last week, Representative Bonamici (D-OR) led the charge to ensure that this issue, which is threatening American businesses and livelihoods, receives increased funding from Congress.

A few months ago, President Obama called for increased investments in funding ocean acidification research and monitoring. Unfortunately the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to answer that call so far. An amendment offered by Representative Bonamici would have increased the funding level for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification research program from $6 million to $15 million – the amount that the President says we need, however this amendment did not pass the house.  These dollars would have supported critical research to improve our understanding of acidification impacts on vulnerable communities and businesses.

Luckily, the U.S. Senate still has an opportunity to grab the baton from Rep. Bonamici and support full funding for this research when they take up their own NOAA funding bill next week.

But here’s the bad news:

A Member of Congress from a landlocked district in Texas is continuing his efforts to thwart common sense ocean planning. Representative Flores (R-TX) introduced an amendment that tries to block the nation’s premier ocean agency, NOAA, from smart ocean planning and other activities to support a healthy ocean through the National Ocean Policy.

This amendment is the sixth attempt in the last two years by Rep. Flores to undermine smart planning for the ocean, but none of his amendments have become law – thanks to strong opposition from Ocean Conservancy members, the Obama Administration, and the U.S. Senate.

We need to hold strong against this latest attack. Being smart about how we use our ocean allows us to look at the big picture and work together to make informed, balanced choices for a healthy ocean and the millions of jobs and livelihoods that depend on it. Planning maximizes what we get out of the ocean while minimizing the threats to the ocean’s health. It prevents conflicts like wind farms being planned in major shipping routes, balances uses like sand mining and commercial fishing interests, and protects key biological resources without impeding the needs of our defense infrastructure.

You can help by telling your member of Congress to oppose this amendment.

It’s clear that we have a challenge ahead, but we are hopeful that leaders in the U.S. Senate will prioritize the people and communities that depend on a healthy ocean by funding critically important ocean research and planning.

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Attack on National Ocean Policy Defeated; Lost Opportunity to Create a National Endowment for the Ocean Fri, 16 May 2014 20:36:49 +0000 Anne Merwin Over the course of the last few months, we’ve been talking about the competing visions of the House and Senate versions of a bill called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate proposed to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans, which would expand scientific research, provide planning and resource management, restore habitat and much more. Conversely, the House proposed to gut the existing National Ocean Policy that ensures smart use of ocean resources.

See our previous posts here, here, and here. Thousands of you wrote and called members of Congress, asking them to safeguard the National Ocean Policy and to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans.

This week, after nearly 6 months of negotiation, a final deal was announced. Thanks to your help, the threat to the National Ocean Policy was resoundingly rejected. Champions in the Senate and White House heard you, and successfully negotiated to remove the “Flores rider”—inserted by Rep. Bill Flores who represents a landlocked district in central Texas— from the final bill. If it had been successful, this misguided attempted to undermine the National Ocean Policy would have prohibited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key coastal and ocean management agency, from coordinating with coastal states, other federal agencies and the public as they engage in smart ocean planning. With this threat removed, the multiple states that are already working on smart ocean planning can move forward unimpeded with the full cooperation and participation of the federal government.

Unfortunately, the proposed new National Endowment for the Ocean was collateral damage in the negotiations. It is frustrating and disappointing that despite strong public demand and the recommendation of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, partisan politics derailed this opportunity to create a permanent, sustainable fund for our oceans’ future. However, we appreciate the Administration and Senate’s full-throated defense of the National Ocean Policy, and look forward to working with them to advance ocean planning priorities.

We are also pleased to see that the final bill does help prioritize the needs of coastal communities by creating a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coastal resiliency program. This program spotlights the need for increased resources for ocean and coastal resilience, and takes a positive step toward enabling coastal communities to better respond to changing ocean conditions such as sea level rise, and major disasters such as hurricanes and superstorms.

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Does the 2014 Budget Bill Support a Healthy Ocean? Sat, 18 Jan 2014 12:16:57 +0000 Emily Woglom

Photo: NOAA

This week, Congress reached a compromise on a budget bill for fiscal year 2014. But does the bill support a healthy ocean? Let’s just say, if the bill were a marine biology student, it would need to get a tutor.

In the months since last October’s costly government shutdown, Congress has been busily debating how to go forward on major funding issues. Naturally, Ocean Conservancy is concerned with making sure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – and ocean-related programs in general – will receive adequate money. In the beginning stages of the debate last year, we laid out three critical questions that would determine whether the bill was good for the ocean. When the House of Representatives and the Senate each passed their versions of the bill, we graded them based on these questions.

Now that the two chambers have reached a compromise on an overall (“omnibus”) budget bill, let’s see how well the bill did on the test:

1.     NOAA’s topline budget: Does it cover the costs? B+

Sort of.

In fiscal year 2013, the amount of money appropriated to NOAA was pathetic. For 2014, President Obama requested a budget increase for NOAA that would not only fully fund its existing ocean research and conservation programs but propel them forward. Even though the recently-passed bill increases NOAA’s budget from last year’s abysmal levels, it falls short of what the Administration requested by $125 million.

That shortfall increases when you consider that the bill allots $75 million as one-time funding for fishery disaster mitigation. As a result, if you look at the core annual NOAA programs, the effective gap is more like $200 million.

In the end, this year’s budget is better than last year’s budget – and a lot better than what the House originally proposed, which would have resulted in a $525 million shortfall for NOAA. However, it’s far from ideal.

For avoiding the worst outcome and taking a small step in the right direction, we give the bill a “B+” on this question.

2.     Is there balance between NOAA’s wet and dry missions? C+

Not really.

Some good news coming from this bill is that Congress has more than fully funded the National Weather Service. So the “dry side” of NOAA fared quite well.

However, NOAA’s “wet side” programs in the National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service took a significant hit. NMFS faces a $34 million shortfall while the NOS will have to deal with a $25 million shortfall. These are especially concerning figures considering the fact that these two services represent a large portion of NOAA’s wet side.

Here are just a few examples of what the ocean loses as a result:

  • Regional Ocean Partnership grants will be cut completely by the proposed budget, leaving coastal states’ coordinated ocean-use planning completely unfunded.
  • Ocean acidification research stagnates. Funds to study ocean acidification will remain at last year’s insufficient (sequestration) levels. This crucially-important scientific research helps coastal communities cope with the growing problem and enjoys broad support.
  • Endangered marine species left under-protected. Funding for the Species Recovery Grant Program has declined sharply over the last few years.. This year’s budget increases funding for the program only slightly over 2013 levels, keeping it far below historic levels and at a $12 million shortfall. The program provides money to states to help them manage threatened and endangered species such as right whales, monk seals, southern sea otters, and many other important animals.

For this mixed bag peppered with low spots, we give the bill a “C+” on this question.

3.     Does the bill attack the National Ocean Policy? C


While the bill doesn’t explicitly attack the NOP, it conspicuously snubs it. The bill does nothing to help attain the NOP’s goals of smart ocean planning.

The NOP is more than just a NOAA priority; dozens of other federal agencies are involved in its implementation. Congress’s actions make it clear that neither NOAA nor The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, both vital ocean agencies, will receive extra money this year to deal with NOP priorities.

For leaving the NOP hanging, we give the bill a “C” on this question.

The bottom line: While the 2014 budget bill is a slight improvement over 2013 (on the whole) and a huge improvement over the appalling initial proposal from the House, it is far from ideal for our ocean. Overall, the bill gets a C+.

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Challenges of a Changing Ocean: Can Congress Act in Time? Wed, 04 Dec 2013 18:44:22 +0000 Guest Blogger

Credit: NOAA

The piece below was excerpted from an article by Tom Allen in Roll Call. Allen is the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers and a Board member of Ocean Conservancy. He represented Maine’s 1st District in Congress for six terms and was a founding member of the House Oceans Caucus.


In a Congress marred by gridlock and partisan brinkmanship, a surprising opportunity has emerged to strengthen our nation’s ocean and coastal communities, businesses and environment. Congress should seize the moment and establish the long-recommended National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes.

Unless Congress acts now, the opportunity will slip away.

The House and Senate Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) bills currently in conference contain competing provisions — with competing visions — for the future of ocean and coastal management in America. This legislative conflict is part of our country’s broader ideological struggle, but with this difference: On the ocean, no state government, chamber of commerce or environmental group can exercise coordinated and effective leadership alone.

The WRDA conferees and Congress should choose thoughtful long-term engagement to protect and enhance ocean quality over the all-too-common knee-jerk hostility toward any new government initiative.

Ironically, ocean issues didn’t generate such partisan conflict until recently. As a founding member of the bipartisan House Oceans Caucus, I can say that working across the aisle on ocean issues used to be far more commonplace. For example, the idea of a permanent ocean endowment was proposed back in 2004 by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy — a commission appointed entirely by President George W. Bush. When the commission first floated the idea of an ocean trust fund in a draft report and asked governors for comment, support was overwhelming and bipartisan. Of the 20 coastal governors who submitted comments on an ocean trust fund, 19 supported the idea — six Democrats and 13 Republicans. Only one Democratic governor expressed any opposition.


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The Most Important Congressional Action on the Ocean You’ve Never Heard of Fri, 15 Nov 2013 13:00:07 +0000 Emily Woglom Aerial view of San Miguel Island of the Channel Islands, California

Photo: Jonathan Hubbell / Photo Contest 2011

Right now, Congress has a major opportunity to protect our ocean and coasts. It can create a National Endowment for the Oceans and safeguard the existing National Ocean Policy in one fell swoop.

How? Well, it’s a tale of two bills.

The House and the Senate both recently passed versions of a bill called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), but their versions are different. The Senate version would establish a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO), which would expand scientific research, provide planning and resource management, restore habitat and much more. Conversely, the House version not only fails to establish this endowment, it guts the existing National Ocean Policy (NOP) that ensures smart use of ocean resources.

Soon, a committee made up of members of Congress from both chambers will come together in a “conference” to combine the two bills into a single final version. The ocean will either get a big win or suffer a big loss.

What’s at stake?

Following the recommendations of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, NEO would invest in our ocean’s future. The endowment authorizes grants to state, regional and tribal entities as well as academic institutions and nonprofit organizations to support ocean and Great Lakes research and restoration projects such as:

  • Restoration of wetlands, coral reefs, sea grass beds and watersheds
  • Mapping, monitoring, observation and modeling of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes systems
  • Adaptation to the impacts of climate change and mitigation of coastal hazards, including infrastructure protection
  • Research and monitoring of ocean acidification, hypoxia and harmful algal blooms
  • Conservation of sensitive marine, coastal and Great Lakes species and their habitats
  • Baseline data collection, ecosystem assessments and mapping for use in planning for new sustainable ocean uses and protecting ecosystem health
  • Planning for sustainable coastal development

To put the importance of this work into perspective, consider that scientists estimate that we’ve explored less than 5 percent of the ocean, that 91 percent of ocean species remain undiscovered, and that we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of the United States’ territorial ocean waters.

Moreover, NEO’s investments would create jobs and support coastal economies. They would also ensure that present and future generations benefit from the ecological, economic, educational, social, cultural, spiritual, nutritional and recreational resources of our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes.

Then, there’s the NOP. When it comes to making decisions that impact our ocean, every tool should be on the table for gathering and sharing information. The NOP is one of those vital, common-sense tools. It allows the entities responsible for ocean use planning to coordinate with each other, increasing efficiency and reducing redundancy.

The NOP also pushes ocean and coastal management out to the regional level, putting ocean management decisions in the hands of on-the-ground people and businesses that will be impacted by ocean management decisions. In the words of Sen. Edward Markey, opposing the National Ocean Policy is like opposing air traffic control.

Attacks on the NOP have ranged from hyperbolic to hysterical, with the latest one coming in the form of an amendment to WRDA offered by Rep. Bill Flores, who is not from a coastal district.

The “Flores rider” attempts to block full implementation of the NOP. It would prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key coastal and ocean management agency, from coordinating with coastal states, other federal agencies and the public as they engage in smart ocean planning.

Banning coordination between the Corps and these entities is misguided. Smart ocean planning is currently being used by several states – from Massachusetts to Oregon – with great success. Imposing such an arbitrary restriction harms states, the Army Corps, and the ocean and coastal economy.

A healthy ocean provides employment, direct economic benefits, recreation, wildlife habitat, cultural identity and indirect economic services like protection from natural disaster. Ocean Conservancy staff members are working hard on Capitol Hill to make sure the final bill is a win for the ocean and the people who rely on it. You can help by telling your member of Congress to support the National Endowment for the Oceans and oppose the anti-National Ocean Policy Flores rider in the WRDA bill.

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Three Ways the Shutdown Is Having Real Ocean Impacts Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:29:14 +0000 Jeff Watters

Credit: Drew Koshar

It has now been more than one week since the federal government shut down, and stories about how the shutdown is impacting the ocean are beginning to flow in.

Last week, I wrote on how Congress’s failure to reach a consensus on a funding bill would impact government agencies conducting operations in the ocean, and how government data utilized by scientists, fishermen and state and local officials would no longer be accessible.

But now, the shutdown isn’t just a theoretical exercise in government. It’s impacting both people and the environment.

Here are three examples of ways that the government shutdown is causing real pain and doing real damage:

This year, the “deadliest catch” might not get caught. Because of the shutdown, Alaskan crab fishermen preparing for the season could be forced to stay in port. The federal government issues permits that fishermen need to go out on the water and the crab fishermen can’t do their jobs until those permits are issued. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the seafood industry contributes 78,500 jobs and an estimated $5.8 billion to Alaska’s economy. At least for the crab fishermen, this year’s bounty might be in danger if the government stays closed for much longer.

Our Antarctic research stations are on the verge of closing. Scientists funded by the government are also seeing the adverse effects of the congressional stalemate. In fact, if the shutdown continues through mid-October the entire field season for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program will be cancelled, postponing the work of hundreds of scientists focused on glaciology, ecology and astrophysics for at least a year. This would place America behind other countries in important scientific research and hold back those scientists who depend on this funding.

Roadblocks for investigation into mystery mass dolphin deaths. Even the conservation community is feeling the pain of the shutdown. In the Mid-Atlantic, a viral epidemic has been killing hundreds of bottlenose dolphins for months. The body count is nearing 700, yet the shutdown threatens to decelerate the investigation and leave research centers with piles of dead dolphins and not enough scientists to study them.

The full impact of this government shutdown will only be known after it ends, but the picture is already looking bleak. Important, time-sensitive scientific research is being delayed and people’s livelihoods are on the line. We’ll continue to monitor the situation, but if there’s one thing that we know for sure it’s that this shutdown is clearly harming Americans and our ocean resources.

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