U.S. embraces marine spatial planning

The Obama administration on Monday unveiled its plans to create a national ocean stewardship policy, including adopting an ecosystem-based approach to managing U.S. fisheries.

The announcement came as the Ocean Policy Task Force, which President Obama formed last year, released its final recommendations, including establishing a National Ocean Council to better coordinate regulation of the oceans and Great Lakes. The council would comprise scientists and officials from an array of federal agencies.

The final recommendations also identify marine spatial planning as a priority. Marine spatial planning — a type of zoning that’s caused a stir among many in the fishing and seafood industries — offers a “comprehensive, integrated approach” to managing activities, including fishing, over the long term and “ensures science-based information is at the heart of decision-making,” according to the Obama administration.

“This first-of-its kind framework will help our nation plan wisely for the future of our oceans and coastlines,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“Today, possibly more so than any point in our nation’s history, we appreciate that healthy oceans matter,” added Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The environmental community lauded the task force’s final recommendations.

“Our planet is 70 percent blue, and our national economic and environmental policies should keep it that color,” said Chris Mann, senior officer for the Pew Environment Group. “Whether it’s recovering from the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reducing polluted runoff or protecting important marine and coastal habitat, we have a lot of work ahead of us to achieve that goal.”

“With all of the pain and devastation in the Gulf of Mexico right now, this policy provides welcomed news for America’s oceans and those who depend on them,” added Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The task force received nearly 5,000 comments from politicians, stakeholders and the public before finalizing its recommendations. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, Ray Riutta of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Susan Jackson of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association and dozens of commercial fishermen were among those who submitted comments.

Obama is expected to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to implement the final recommendations.

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