Today — World Oceans Day — CI’s Andrew Rosenberg is participating in a panel discussion entitled “Over 40 Years in the Struggle for Ocean Policy” as part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, D.C. Here on CI’s blog, he reflects on the progress made on marine conservation issues since 1972, when a number of important ocean policies were enacted.
American environmental policy generally — and ocean policy in particular — has come a long way over the last four decades. I think it’s hard for many people today to imagine the days when pollution was unregulated, huge foreign fishing vessels dominated our fisheries, and building in the coastal zone was a free-for-all. But that was once the reality, and the result was a real decline in ocean health that threatened what we as a society want and need from this vast but fragile resource. (Learn more about the value that the ocean provides for us in the video below.)
I was personally involved in implementing fishing regulations in the northeastern U.S. after decades of overfishing had decimated our coastal resources. This was a battle, because things had to change and change can be hard on people, businesses and communities. It is true that there are some who lose out in the short term, but the alternative is truly the loss of the great fisheries of New England. Undoubtedly things can still get much better, but years of overfishing have been reversed and some key fisheries like scallops and haddock have recovered and are producing more than ever.
It is not uncommon to hear people decry regulation, yet regulation has been responsible for significant improvements in the health of marine and coastal ecosystems. This year marks the 40th anniversaries of several important ocean policies, including the Coastal Zone Management, Marine Mammal Protection, Clean Water, and National Marine Sanctuaries Acts.
Since 1972, we have put in place a system of managing human activities that may harm the ocean environment, developed science-based approaches to management and brought the principle of environmental sustainability into decision-making. The result? Cleaner coastal waters, protected areas for unique places and habitats and recovering fisheries along the U.S. coasts.
We have made real progress — but there’s still plenty of work to do.
Andrew Rosenberg is the senior vice president of CI’s Science and Knowledge division.