We knew it was coming. We advocated it be done by legislation and not by Executive Order. We lost that battle but we definitely took some high ground.

I’m referring to President Obama’s Executive Order issued this week establishing a National Ocean Council, a new level of government with unprecedented authority. You’ll recall on June 12, 2009, Obama created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force charged with developing a new national policy and framework for “improved stewardship, and effective coastal and marine spatial planning” for the oceans and Great Lakes. (See Dealer Outlook blogs – Feb. 18, 23 and 25, 2010) The task force issued its third and final recommendations which have become the Executive Order. 

When the task force issued its first preliminary report last September, our industry was shocked to find recreational boating and fishing weren’t even mentioned! That resulted in NMMA joining with nine other boating and fishing organizations to aggressively go after the task force and get boating and fishing recognized as a major stakeholder. Success! The final recommendations now note recreation at least 50 times. Moreover, specific references to the importance of recreational access to the oceans are also included.

For example, the Executive Order confirms: “Nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal counties, and millions of visitors enjoy our nation’s seashores each year. The ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are vital places for recreation, including boating, fishing, swimming, nature watching, and diving. These activities not only help fuel our economy, but also are critical to the social and cultural fabric of our country.”

The Executive Order also includes good directives like: “support sustainable, safe, secure, and productive access to, and uses of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes . . . respect and preserve our nation's maritime heritage, including our social, cultural, recreational, and historical values. . . preservation of navigational rights and freedoms . . . use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.” Good stuff, so we’re okay, right?

Not so fast. We’re talking about the most expansive change in our oceans management in history. The new NOC will be all-powerful with top down federal authority over virtually every aspect of U.S. ocean policy, creating a structure that could diminish the role of state programs, and setting the stage for probable conflicts, disputed priorities, agency turf wars, and winners and losers as someone’s interests get squeezed out under the banner of “Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.” All these possibilities will come to light during the next five years as the NOC staff takes up writing the implementations.

Right now, our oceans and coasts are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 agencies, each with different, and in some cases conflicting, goals and mandates. By any definition, that’s a bureaucratic mess! An overarching national policy that could streamline things is a worthy goal. After all, we’re dealing with the very basis for our industry – water access. So why, then, do I question whether a bureaucratic mess can be cleaned up by – well, more bureaucrats? Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect we’ll be fighting for our interests in this one for years to come and we better stay alert!


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