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Final draft of ocean plan out, management details unclear

Posted: May 5, 2013 - 6:45pm  |  Updated: May 6, 2013 - 7:40am

A new ocean management plan is in the works, but the exact implications for Alaska’s oceans are still unknown.

President Barack Obama’s final National Oceans Policy was released April 16.

With more coastline than any other state, and an economy dependent on several ocean-based activities including fishing, oil and gas development and transportation, Alaska’s stake in an ocean management scheme is immense.

The April implementation plan for the policy likely will not require the state to participate, however.

That’s a change from prior versions, and one that Sen. Mark Begich has said makes the policy more tenable than past versions.

“We asked the Obama administration to go back to the drawing board to revise and simplify their top-down approach,” Begich said in a statement. “Their original Oceans Policy was really just ocean zoning with no meaningful role for the affected states and regional fish councils and did not include opt-out provisions. I appreciate the administration’s willingness to listen to my concerns and urge Alaskans to look closely at this revised plan to see if it works for them. If not, they now have options.”

Essentially, the ocean policy would create regional bodies to oversee regulation of ocean activities.

The plan was designed by the National Ocean Council, which is a body formed in 2010 that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard and representation from 25 other entities. The council was formed in 2010 and oversees oceans and coast, as well as the Great Lakes.

The first iteration of that plan came forward in 2010, but the House of Representatives twice voted to halt funding for such a plan. In January 2012, another draft came out of the White House.

The April rendition is supposed to be the final draft, and included an implementation plan that made several changes to prior drafts, including making participation voluntary.

Essentially, the plan is supposed to streamline regulations for ocean activity.

Currently, ocean activity in federal waters is regulated by several different entities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, oversees fisheries through regional fishery councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS. NOAA is also responsible for some other ocean items, including marine mammals and habitat. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and others also have a hand in overseeing various aspects of ocean issues.

In addition to oversight and regulatory work, the plan is intended to help support habitat restoration efforts, increase data sharing and prepare for Arctic changes, according to federal information about the policy.

Critics, including Alaska’s congressional delegation, have said it would add unnecessary oversight and cost to management via another layer of regulation, and could stifle regional economies.

Rep. Don Young is among those who are still vocal about perceived issues.

“From the very beginning, I have voiced my opposition to this red-taped monstrosity the administration calls a National Ocean Policy. Through hearings, in both Washington D.C., and Anchorage, and in meetings with fisherman from across the country, it’s become clear that this National Oceans Policy will bring a variety of negative implications, from both an economic and management prospective,” Young said in a statement. “From oil and gas, to fishing, agriculture, or home building, no industry on land or at sea escapes the net of this new policy.”

Begich has said that the newest version does acknowledge the need for economic growth, and regional dependence on oceans.

“Alaskans depend on our oceans to support local economies, create jobs, and to put food on our tables,” Begich said in his statement. “With the increasing demands from shippers and other users, the oceans need increased attention and research. But any plan must include a meaningful role for the states, the regional fish councils, and others. I urge (Gov. Sean) Parnell’s administration to look closely at this revised plan and take the next step to ensure Alaskans’ interests are protected.”

State administration opted out of creating a planning agency under draft versions of the plan, although a decision on how the state will move forward under the final implementation plan has not yet been announced.

This year, the state Legislature also considered a bill regarding the ocean planning initiative. It passed the House, but did not make it out of the Senate before the end of the session. That bill asked for an Alaska exemption to a national plan, and said the state Legislature would not recognize the final implementation if there was not an exemption or participation was not voluntary.

The bill also included some of the state’s concerns, including the potential for the new policy to apply to waterways beyond just the ocean, and issues with overregulation.

Other Alaska entities have also voiced an opinion on the plan.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce released a position statement opposing implementation of the plan.

So did the National Ocean Policy Coalition, an organization that represents several sectors of industry and is focused on ensuring implementation of a new ocean policy is helpful, rather than harmful, to ocean users.

Coalition Executive Director Brent Greenfield said that while the new plan is less onerous than earlier drafts, concerns remain, including issues with how regional disputes will be resolved, what involvement stakeholders will have, and the impacts on future regulatory action.

The At-sea Processors Association, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Alaska State Chamber, Alaska Support Industry Alliance and other entities operating in the state are members of that coalition.

 

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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