Last week’s election results will create a divided government in Washington. That means that policy change will be bi-partisan, or it just won’t happen. While for advocates and supporters of other causes this may justifiably be a cause for concern, it should not for ocean conservationists like yourself. This is because we know that science-based sensible ocean management is a bi-partisan policy.
Ocean abundance has been a bi-partisan goal for decades in the United States. So, if you are an ocean conservationist, you had to be alarmed when the House of Representatives recently passed Representative Don Young’s (R-AK) bill gutting the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The flagship US law that has rebuilt 45 fisheries in just the past two decades is one of the great success stories in modern conservation. Those abundant fisheries mean jobs, good food and a healthy ocean.
Representative Young’s bill invites the commercial fishing companies to overfish, chasing short-term cash over sustainable long-term ocean health and abundance.
Oceana is fighting to stop this bill from passing the Senate and going to the White House where President Trump’s signature would make it the new law of the land.
The assault by the House of Representatives on this law is hard to comprehend. For decades, sensible ocean management has been a bi-partisan cause. Indeed, the Magnuson-Stevens Act bears the name of two lions of the Senate, one a Democrat, and one a Republican (indeed Senator Ted Stevens represented Alaska, the state that regularly sends Don Young to Washington as a congressman). And both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed bills that strengthened this law and produced the in-the-water abundance now being measured by scientists on both coasts.
The Magnuson-Stevens bill has become a model for countries that seek to assure ocean abundance.
Protecting the American coasts from expanded ocean oil drilling is another policy that stood on bi-partisan shoulders for decades. Congress after Congress passed drilling moratoria to assure that the ocean oil drillers would not contaminate the east and west coasts and wreck the west coast of Florida. The Trump Administration, and the current Congress are together trying to change this policy. The Trump Administration formally proposes fully opening up both coasts to the oil companies for drilling. Led by Secretary Zinke, President Trump and his team are working to lease our ocean to the oil companies.
And they are doing this while Deepwater Horizon is still a vivid memory – the worst environmental disaster in American history. An out of control oil spill that threatened to oil the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and which delivered millions of dollars of damage to the once abundant fisheries there.
The lame duck session – the period between now and the installation of the new Congress at the beginning of January – is a perilous period for our ocean. We, and our allies, have a lot to do to assure that industry insiders do not use this moment to cash in by driving legislative bulldozers over the longstanding laws that conserve our fisheries and protect our beaches.
The good news is that starting in 2019 we will have a new Congress that may be amenable to bi-partisan action for the oceans. Voters have sent a message to Washington: let’s protect our beaches, our oceans and the laws that have made them abundant.