Want to restore ocean ecosystems? Involve people making a living from the sea.

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Guest Blogger
photo by Richard Nelson

This is a guest post from Richard Nelson, a lobsterman from Friendship, Maine

With a background as a lobsterman in the small midcoast town of Friendship, ME, I decided a couple of years ago to follow and become involved in those aspects of the National Ocean Policy that affect me as both a fisherman and concerned individual.

The goals of the planning, as set forth by the National Ocean Council, are to find ways to support sustainable ocean uses that contribute to the economy, while at the same time protecting, maintaining and restoring the ocean ecosystems. This would involve creating a regional plan to reduce conflicts among fishing, offshore energy, shipping conservation and recreation.

I am hopeful that this process will involve a group made up of oceanographers, fishermen, conservation groups, tugboat operators and others with either a tradition of, or aspirations toward, ocean use.  The input of the federal officials, state planners and agency heads as well as the tribal representatives that are all official members of the regional planning bodies is certainly important, but it is critical that some form of direct participation is extended to those whose livelihoods depend on the ocean, such as me. Given that regional planning has the backing of most of the major conservation groups, the scientific community, ocean renewable energy and other industries, all seeking to start the process off in a somewhat similar direction, now is the perfect time and place to shape the format of the ocean planning process. We need to directly include stakeholders and make sure that they have a real seat at the table, rather than engaging in the old model of top-down management which would, in my mind, lead to a future of second guessing, protestations and eventually an “occupy oceans” mentality.

As we begin this process let us take advantage of the opportunity to start ocean planning off right. This is the point at which you might ask, “Well what do you suggest?”

Instead of the “How would I know? I’m a fisherman” route, allow me to ask for the help and guidance of those out there whose thoughts are more in tune with governance and the political sciences, that they may come to our aid with suggestions for alternative structures. There have been methods suggested, such as stakeholder advisory groups, which could be used to invite traditional ocean users to the table, bringing their knowledge and experience to bear.  They could then be included in the initial establishing of a vision and setting of goals, not just sought out after plans are drawn, to be queried as to, “Can you live with that?” I am hopeful that workable methods can be found to engage stakeholders in successful Regional Ocean planning.

As an “impacted stakeholder” and almost daily “ocean user” I fully support the National Ocean Policy and most of its many important directives, including the implementation of Regional Ocean planning. This process seems to offer a better alternative than single agency, case-by-case decision making. It has a regional goal in mind, a vision for the future of our oceans that should be a shared endeavor of fishermen, scientists, planners and business alike.

In that sense, I would like to look up at the table and see a few faces that I can imagine seeing out on the water someday.

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