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The 2016 presidential candidates address ocean issues (sort of).

Finally, after almost a year of silence, we have concrete responses from the leading presidential candidate about ocean health and, in particular, the state of America’s fisheries. Well, sort of.

ScienceDebate.org, a non-partisan science advocacy group, asked the four leading candidates a slew of 20 science-related questions, including the following about ocean health:

“There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?”

sciencedebate.org

Gary Johnson and Donald Trump declined to answer (Johnson declined to answer any question, Trump’s submitted boilerplate copy that makes no mention of the oceans or any ocean issue).

Jill Stein’s succinct response acknowledged the problems that overfishing, climate change, and ocean plastics pose to the oceans, but provides no specific policy recommendations. 

Clinton 2016. From sciencedebate.org

Clinton 2016. From sciencedebate.org

Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton was the only candidate to provide a detailed assessment and concrete policy recommendations for issues affecting the oceans. We’re going to take her response statement by statement and see how it stacks up against current scientific consensus and best practices.

Our coastal and ocean resources play a critical role in providing nutritious food, good livelihoods, and critical storm protection for our nation. With about 40 percent of our nation’s population living in coastal counties, 1.8 million Americans making their livelihood from fisheries, and 3 billion people globally dependent on the oceans for a major portion of their protein, we cannot afford to ignore the health of our oceans.

sciencedebate.org

This is, if anything, an understatement.

I will continue to recover and rebuild U.S. fish stocks by making sound management decisions based on the best available science. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act laid an important foundation for guiding how we manage our fisheries.  My administration will work with fishers so that we continue to have the best managed fisheries in the world, and I will oppose efforts in Congress that seek to weaken Magnuson-Stevens or divorce it from our best science.  These steps will protect the livelihoods of today’s fishers and ensure the health of these resources for generations to come.

sciencedebate.org

American Exceptionalism aside, the US does have among the best-managed fisheries in the world, with many previously overfished fish stocks now in recovery following several decades of careful management and measurement. While there is, and likely always will be, significant debate within the scientific community regarding what constitutes recovered or healthy fish stocks and how to measure that, the general consensus is that the United States fisheries are doing much better than many, if not most other nations. The Magnuson-Stevens Act has been instrumental in facilitating these recoveries, by mandating monitoring and continuous stock assessments using a science-based framework. Not all fisheries are doing well, and not all fisheries are well-managed, there is still much work to be done, but overall, US fisheries provide an optimistic model for the future of our ongoing dependence on the sea.

The NOAA 2015 Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries is worth a read.

At the same time, we will act globally to address the fisheries crisis. Ninety percent of our seafood is imported, making the United States one of the top markets for fish from around the world. Yet, experts estimate that up to 32 percent of that seafood, worth up to $2 billion, comes from “pirate” fishing. This illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing also deprives fishing communities of up to $23 billion per year and puts honest, hardworking American fishers at a disadvantage in the marketplace. I will work with our industry, and other countries, to implement strong traceability standards for our seafood from bait to plate.

sciencedebate.org

Few marine scientist and conservationist would argue that transparency, traceability, and strong chain-of-custody documentation isn’t an essential component of addressing the global fisheries crisis. It’s almost impossible to regulate fish imports when the provenance and identity of these fish is completely obscured by both long supply chains and intentional deceit. Seafood fraud (though I hate that term, because it trivializes how extensive the problem really is and puts the blame at the final point of sale, instead of deep in the supply chain. Most of the time, when you’re sold a false fish, the person you’re buying from has also been unknowingly defrauded, too) is a major global problem.

In addition, we must continue to protect and restore the coastal habitat upon which healthy fisheries depend. My administration will work collaboratively across government, academia, and industry to build solutions that keep our waters clean, our coastal and ocean resources healthy, and our communities thriving.

sciencedebate.org

“No Wetlands, No Seafood” as the bumper sticker goes. Coastal habitat is critical, not just for fish, but also for the maritime economy. In addition, barrier islands, wetlands, oyster reefs, and mangroves provide a buffer against storms and protect both coastal and inland communities. Collaborative efforts that include the affected communities are the only way to create lasting policy and stewardship practices.

At the same time, climate change and carbon pollution is also taking a heavy toll on our oceans.  From oyster farms in Washington State to coral reefs in Hawaii and rising seas in Virginia, warming, acidifying waters are damaging our resources and the people who depend on them. I will make sure America continues leading the global fight against climate change, support development of the best climate science, and instruct federal agencies to incorporate that knowledge into their policies and practices so that we are preparing for the future, not just responding to the past.

sciencedebate.org

And finally, climate change. It’s pretty hard to argue that “America continues leading the global fight against climate change” since our country is among the most resistant to climate change preparation, and is, if anything, leading a reckless, disjointed, and haphazard effort to address these problems. But yes, the oceans, more than anything have already felt the significant sting of climate change and if we have any hope of reversing, mitigating, or minimizing the effects of phenomena like ocean acidification, we need to rise to that vision of global climate leadership.

All told, Clinton has provided a deep, nuanced look at her ocean platform, that, with the exception of a bit of pro-America hyperbole, is firmly grounded in best available science. What I like most is the focus on community and economy. There’s no overtly “green” message here, which makes it both stronger, as current ocean crises impact far more than just the issues important to environmentalists, and genuine, since Clinton, though the strongest environmental candidate among the current crop, has a far from perfect record on the environment. This is the platform of someone balancing the needs of a diverse pool of constituents against the best available science and carefully considering the needs of often conflicting groups.

In short, it’s positively presidential.


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Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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