Multinational Monitor

SEP 2003
VOL 24 No. 9


Fishing Off the Deep End - And Back
by Carl Safina

Dead Seas: Nutrient Pollution in Coastal Waters
by Doug Daigle

Coasts at Risk: Coastal Sprawl and the Shore
by David Helvarg

Deep Trouble: Corporate and Military Designs on the Deep Seas
by Deborah Cramer

The Seaweed Rebellion: Marine Grassroots Movements to Protect Coastal and Ocean Ecosystems
by David Helvarg


Working for a New Ocean Ethos: Ocean Activism on the Shorelines
an interview with Christopher Evans


Behind the Lines

A Sea Change to Reverse the Oceans Crisis

The Front
Executive Excess

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News



A Sea Change to Reverse the Oceans Crisis

More than 13,000 U.S. beaches were closed or under pollution advisories in 2001, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year.

A December 2000 storm resulted in the escape of 100,000 salmon from a single farm in Maine, about 1,000 times the number of documented wild adult salmon in the state's waters.

Sprawl development is consuming land at a rate five times that of population growth in many U.S. coastal areas.

At least a third of U.S. fish stocks -- and perhaps a much higher proportion -- are being overfished.

More than 60 percent of U.S. coastal rivers and bays are moderately to severely degraded by nutrient runoff that creates algae blooms that destroy fish and plant life.

These statistical tidbits were compiled by the Pew Oceans Commission, a bipartisan commission convened by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the state of U.S. oceans.

In their varied ways, they indicate a common theme: U.S. oceans are in crisis. Overfishing, coastal sprawl, oil drilling, nitrogen runoff from factory farms, pollutant runoff from coastal development, aquaculture and militarization of the seas are poisoning ocean waters and destroying ocean habitats.

"America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change," the final report of the Pew Oceans Commission, offers a straightforward agenda to rescue the oceans.

Among its key recommendations, the report calls for a new system of policymaking and governance for oceans and coastal areas. It calls for the enactment of a National Oceans Policy Act (analogous to the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act); creation of an independent national oceans agency (not lodged in the Department of Commerce, or other agencies with missions other than to protect ocean ecosystems); establishment of regional ocean ecosystem councils to develop and implement regional ocean governance plans (so that watershed management and planning can be coherently conducted according to natural geological realities, not arbitrary political jurisdictions); and establishment of a national system of fully protected marine reserves.

In specific policy areas -- among them, fisheries management, dealing with coastal sprawl and cracking down on ocean and coastal polluters -- the report offers an array of helpful recommendations.

The report is also notable for insisting on the importance of a new ocean ethos. It demands that the oceans be treated as a public trust, managed to serve public not private interests. It emphasizes ecological sustainability as a guiding principle, and argues that economic sustainability will depend on ecological sustainability -- that is, the diverse economic activities that are reliant on the oceans, from fishing to recreation, will only be able to survive over the long haul if oceans are protected ecologically. It calls for the application of the precautionary principle to oceans management: "in the face of uncertainty, we should err in our decisions on the side of protecting these ecosystems." And it urges that governmental action related to oceans be democratically determined.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the quite sensible approach advocated by the Pew Oceans Commission is the members of the commission who endorsed it.

The commission included a Republican governor, the chair of the largest private drinking water utility in the United States and a board member of the American Enterprise Institute, and the CEO of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.

The lesson that emerges, perhaps, is that anyone who looks in good faith at the U.S. oceans crisis will be prepared to advocate solutions that are -- in comparison to existing policies -- quite radical.

But most interested parties will not look at the issue from a good-faith, public-interest vantage point. The salty special interests that dominate the seas -- the oil industry, the U.S. Navy, factory trawler fishing fleets -- bring quite a different perspective. So do those land-based interests -- among them, factory farms and coastal developers -- which depend on their ability to pollute coastal waters and degrade coastal watersheds.

Realizing the vision of "America's Living Oceans" will require defeating these corporate and military interests. The one serious shortcoming of the report is that it fails to take note of this fact, or to offer a strategy to address it.

One new organization developing a strategy to do just that is the Blue Frontier Campaign, headed by David Helvarg, author of the magnificent book that inspired the organization, Blue Frontier. The Blue Frontier Campaign worked with Multinational Monitor to develop this issue focused on the U.S. oceans crisis.

The Blue Frontier Campaign's operating thesis is that, over the last several decades, hundreds of aggressive and effective citizen organizations have sprung up along the U.S. coasts to protect the oceans, and the rivers and estuaries that feed them. This "seaweed rebellion" is diffuse and not well connected. But if these forces can be linked and coordinated to advance a national agenda -- in addition to pursuing their individual local campaigns -- they possess the power to offset the corporate and military obstacles to a sustainable oceans policy. Carrying forward that organizing task will be an enormous challenge, but it is hard to envision any other means to overcome the ocean exploiters.


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