Two weeks ago I returned from the National Ocean Council’s (NOC) listening session in Ocean Shores, Washington. The event, coordinated by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and other nationwide offices, was hosted by the Quinault Tribe at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, a few hours from Seattle on the Pacific coast. The overall tone of the event was positive, and optimistic, a peculiar pairing with the sounds of buzzing slot machines and 80s rock & roll. I left the conference room inspired and refreshed after listening to the diverse crowd of government officials, fishermen and conservationists sharing the floor discussing ways to cooperate and improve our oceans health.
The listening session commenced with a tribal blessing, which resonated with me, and noticeably many of those in attendance. Within the singing and chanting you could hear the simple reminder that we were all in that room because of our fundamental connection to the ocean. After opening remarks, a plenary session provided various perspectives and interests of tribal leaders and government agencies on the draft strategic action plan outlines . Notable dignitaries gave presentations on the importance of this listening session including Fawn Sharp, and Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation; Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for NOAA fisheries; Kevin Ranker, Senator of the State of Washington; Micah McCarty, Chairman, Makah Tribe; Keith Phillips, Senior Policy Advisor in the Washington State Governor’s Office; Ms. Alisa Praskovich, Ocean Policy Advisor for the NOC: and Congressman Norm Dicks, Member of the House of Representatives. They then fielded questions from the audience including Fawn Sharp and Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Nation.
The Ocean Shore listening session, one of twelve nationwide, was designed to engage the public and solicit feedback on nine draft Strategic Action Plans (SAPs) outlines to prioritize objectives that address some of our most pressing issues related to our oceans, coastlines and the Great Lakes. The nine SAPs are:
- Ecosystem-Based Management
- Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning
- Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding
- Coordinate and Support
- Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification
- Regional Ecosystem Protection and Restoration
- Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land
- Changing Conditions in the Arctic
- Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Observations, Mapping, and Infrastructure
The last half of the day was dedicated to a poster session lasting an hour that provided information on each SAP for the public. The participants were free to move from poster to poster, engage with subject matter experts and note takers to discuss each SAP and, if they wanted, make official comments to the NOC. A total of 51 public comments were submitted at this session alone, with 107 people in attendance. One priority, Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) was anticipated to be the big topic of the day, warranting two posters on opposite ends of the room, but comments on CMSP, may not have exceeded those from other SAPs. At the end of the poster session a brief summary was provided by each topic expert on each SAP to give the audience a flavor of what had been discussed. For example, the facilitators of “Changing Conditions in the Arctic” reminded the audience that we should not forget this critical SAP because changes in the Arctic have some of the biggest implications on the health of our oceans and coastlines surrounding the US. As a note taker for the “Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land” poster, I was impressed with the number of comments we received and the variety of concerns regarding the integration of terrestrial and marine management. It was clear that management at the land, shore, and sea boundaries needed to be improved but the big question was how? With so many federal agencies, such as the EPA, USDA, USGS, USFS, involved in terrestrial issues, how were they going to integrate and/or reform their established mandates with NOAA, along with our state, local and tribal counterparts?
Discussing changing conditions in the arctic (photo:Lovewell)
Comments from the listening sessions along with those submitted online are now being incorporated by the NOC to complete the SAPs for our oceans priorities. With so much attention on the National Ocean Council, CMSP, regional governance, and regional agreements like the WCGA, I have to say I’m really looking forward to reading what comes out of these public listening sessions in the full SAPs.