Biden's "30 by 30" order could close off 30 percent of US ocean to fishing

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced on 27 January that the president plans to sign an executive order that commits to a “30 by 30” goal first envisioned in the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act that was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020.

The “30 by 30” plan aims to commit 30 percent of lands and oceans to conservation by 2030, which in the House version of the bill entails a complete ban on “commercial extractive use” in areas of the ocean conserved. The planned executive order, according to a White House statement, is intended to “tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.”

“The order commits to the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030 and launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation,” the White House stated.

That plan, when first unveiled in the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, drew a letter from over 800 members of the seafood industry – organized by the At-sea Processors Association, National Fisheries Institute, Saving Seafood, and the Seafood Harvesters of America – who oppose a blanket ban of all fishing activity in 30 percent of oceans owned by the U.S.

“As participants in our nation’s seafood economy, we write to express deep concern regarding Title II of your recently introduced Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act. If enacted, this Title would undermine our nation’s world-class system of fisheries management, harming fishermen and the coastal communities they sustain,” the letter states. “As you seek feedback on your legislation, we urge you to fundamentally rethink Title II’s provisions.”

The Act’s Title II would require the executive branch to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) over 30 percent of oceans in the U.S. – an action that the Biden administration said it plans to take even without the passage of the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act.

MPAs, the industry letter stated, are unnecessary in the U.S., as fisheries are already sustainably managed.  

“In contrast with many international contexts –where MPAs are established to remedy a profoundly broken fisheries management system and a degraded marine environment – U.S. fisheries are overwhelmingly sustainable and successfully managed to Maximum Sustainable Yield,” the industry letter states.

It also disputes the claim that establishing MPAs would benefit the seafood industry by increasing yields.

“Longstanding fisheries bioeconomics theory, which underpins contemporary fisheries management and science, holds that Maximum Sustainable Yield is achieved via exploitation of fish stocks,” the letter states. “Title II’s implied claim – that closing 30 percent of the U.S. EEZ will result in higher long-term yields from U.S. fisheries – is a false promise, lacking a scientific basis.”

In addition to the conservation portion of the executive order, the order will also direct the Secretary of the Interior to identify “steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030,” the White House stated.

Offshore wind projects have been a sore spot for the fishing industry for the past few years, and industry members met with former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in July to discuss objections to the proposed layouts of offshore wind. It is as-of-yet unclear what effect the Biden administration’s executive order will have on some of the controversial offshore wind projects. 

Photo courtesy of Nuno21/Shutterstock


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