Volume 7, No. 1

Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
Environmental Quality in the Gulf of Maine

Spring 2003
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Gulf Voices
Bogged down by confusing regulations, our oceans deserve better management

By Susan E. Farady

It’s hard to catch the news anywhere in the Gulf of Maine without hearing about some controversy regarding the ocean. Whether it’s codfish, wind energy facilities, or whales our oceans and coastlines provide plenty of topics to talk about. The discussions are frequently loud and volatile and for good reason. Any one of these issues presents compelling questions. How are we managing these resources? Who has the “right” to access a given ocean resource? How do we ensure the rich resources of the Gulf of Maine are here for generations to come? Regardless of the particular subject at hand, examining these broader questions is necessary to turn down the volume and start thinking about how we can better manage our ocean resources.

Susan Farady
What is it about the way we manage our ocean and coastal resources that results in so many controversies? A look at any federal, state or provincial government directory or Website provides some insight. There you’ll find a patchwork of separate agencies with varying jurisdiction over closely related resources - one branch for water quality, one for endangered species (such as whales or eagles), another agency for commercial fisheries, and other entities for parks, refuges and other protected areas. Additionally, the authority of any governmental body varies depending on whether the resource is in state/provincial waters or federal waters. There are plenty of attempts to coordinate the agencies responsible for coastal and ocean management, but the bottom line is that each government entity is designed to function separately and enact regulations using its own distinct guiding laws and principles.

The end result is a myriad of confusing regulations; their effectiveness at protecting resources, the public trust, and providing a predictable means of governance is questionable at best. It only takes a walk along the coast or a trip out on the water to see the connections between habitat, marine life and our own activities. Ocean and coastal management should better reflect those connections, not create a regulatory dichotomy that separates wildlife from its habitat.

Who has “rights” to ocean resources? As we want to do more with the oceans, this question is becomingly increasingly complicated. Our population has exploded (particularly on the coast), our technological abilities have increased and our appetite for consuming marine resources is seemingly endless. Whether you look at aquaculture leasing, transferable quotas in commercial fishing or industrial uses such as wind farms or gas pipelines, it’s clear that we are contemplating carving up rights to the coasts and oceans at an unprecedented pace.

What’s often overlooked is that submerged ocean lands in state and federal waters are indeed public lands and should be treated as such regarding decisions of access and “ownership.” Today’s management schemes do not have sufficient policies in place to respond to the current uses, strained resources and increased demands for access or ownership while adequately considering the public’s interest. The oceans are no longer limitless expanses barely impacted by a few hardy souls in fishing schooners or isolated coastal communities. They are a public trust used by many and our management principles must be updated to reflect today’s conditions.

So how do we move into the 21st Century and ensure that the Gulf of Maine’s resources are there for future generations? For starters, we need to change the way we currently care for these resources. The signs are obvious that without better management, we are capable of causing significant - and perhaps irreversible - damage to our coasts and oceans. It’s also clear that we need better guidance to weed through the competing claims for exclusive access to these resources while adequately governing our existing uses and protecting habitat and biodiversity.

This spring, two commissions will provide important proposals regarding the United States’ future ocean management. After extensively studying the health and condition of our oceans and how we manage them, the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy will release their recommendations for U.S. ocean management to Congress. Americans should pay close attention to these findings and what they mean for our oceans. Do they call for coordinated management that works to preserve coastal and ocean resources for future generations? Do they consider all the demands we put on our oceans, as well as demand that the oceans be protected as a public trust? These commissions can provide guidelines for better coastal and ocean management, but they are only useful if citizens who care about their oceans demand better management from their elected officials.

Susan Farady is a lawyer based in Portland, Maine, where she serves as the Ocean Conservancy’s Ecosystems Protection Project Manager for the Gulf of Maine. To find out more about the conservancy’s work in the New England region go to: http://www.oceanconservancy.org and click on “Regional Offices.”