Do We Need Another Marine Sanctuary?

More Marine Protected Areas on the Way?
Jim Shepherd
from The Fishing Wirerd

President Obama says he’s planning to create the world’s largest marine protected area in the south-central Pacific Ocean. The announcement comes from the White House during Secretary of State John Kerry’s Oceans Conference underway this week in Washington. And like presidents Bush and Clinton, he’s doing it without the approval of Congress.

“Growing up in Hawaii, I learned early to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean,” he said, “And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I’m going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for our mountains and rivers and forests.”

Not everyone is a fan of the president’s use of the executive action, especially since he has already used the Antiquities Act of 1906 as grounds to designate eleven new national monuments on land, closing millions of acres of land.

Opponents of his actions are quick to bring up the fact that his actions block any commercial activities on vast regions-including oil and gas development. More evidence, they say, of his obsession with alternative energy, despite the disasters of Soylindra and other administration-championed boondoggles.

Representative Doc Hastings, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was direct in his opposition to the plan in a statement released after the announcement: “Oceans, like our federal lands, are intended to be multiple-use and open for a wide range of economic activities that include fishing, recreation, conservation and energy production. It appears this administration will use whatever authorities -real or made up – to close our ocean and coastal areas with blatant disregard for possible economic consequences.”

The administration’s response is that with the latest marine protection area it appears will “only” impact commercial tuna fishing. And there’s are still a few details that remain to be worked out. The White House says it has yet to determine the size of the new protected area- or determine what statute it would be created under.

They also say there will be meetings and consultations with outside groups including environmentalists, the fishing industry and elected officials. Privately, fishing industry leaders tell me they expect to have the same voice in the decision-making process that the firearms industry was given in the administration’s drive for more stringent gun controls after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

If that’s the case, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that there will be no fishing- commercial or recreational- allowed inside those protected areas. Ditto other recreational activities as the administration is moving to “protect the oceans” from “overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”

Additionally, Secretary of State Kerry is calling for the creation of a “global ocean strategy”. That, too, is resonating with environmental groups who have pushed for the closure of huge chunks of land and sea to virtually all human interactivity.

In these latest announcements, it sounds as if the administration isn’t really differing from prior ones in their moves to protect our natural areas, but there is a key difference. When the Bush administration, for example, created a 140,000 mile marine area, it was designated a marine sanctuary not a marine protected area. According to the World Conservation Union definitions, there are several important differences: a sanctuary is an area designated free from hunting, while a protected area may have prohibitions on fishing, hunting or development- meaning the laying of cables or oil drilling.

Under one designation, the species of the area are protected from overfishing or other harmful practices. Using the other; designated areas are off-limits to virtually any access beyond surface transit. That, too, may be strictly regulated or prohibited entirely.

Protection of our natural resources is a responsibility each of us must share.

Prohibition of the use of those resources, however, is not something we should permit.

Responsible use and protection are not mutually exclusive.