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What Ever Happened To The NJ Coastal And Ocean Protection Council?

Legislation Created A Council And Expanded DEP Powers To Protect The Ocean

New Ocean Policy On Ecosystem Based Management And Precaution Were Never Implemented

Dolphins cruise the NJ coast

Dolphins cruise the NJ coast

A statement by Tony MacDonald, Director of the Urban Coast Institute at Monmouth University in today’s NJ Spotlight story on the COP26 climate conference caught my eye (emphasis mine):

TM: The oceans have been doing their job. They continue to absorb the carbon. They continue to circulate as they’re supposed to, and they’ve regulated climate. But there are signs that there actually have been pressures that we’re just starting to recognize. We’re seeing some warning signs about acidification that can have an impact on smaller creatures and food webs. We’re seeing concerning trends with regard to temperature. We’re getting more information about how circulation is changing. And we’re seeing fish move, which will of course have a huge impact on fisheries. I’d like to see New Jersey develop a state ocean action plan — other states, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island already have them. 

The suggestion of the need for a “State ocean action plan” was an extreme deja vu moment, which took me back to 2007.

That’s when I partnered with my friend and longtime ocean advocate Benson Chiles and we successfully lobbied Senator Bob Smith to sponsor and pass legislation that created the “Coastal and Ocean Protection Council” (Council).

I wrote the bill that was signed into law as P.L. 2007, CHAPTER 288, approved January 13, 2008 (hereafter “bill”. Hit the link and read it!).

The Legislature found that:

The ocean is a public trust and in order to ensure the protection of the public trust, the governance of these ocean resources should be guided by principles of sustainability, ecosystem health, precaution, recognition of the interconnectedness between land and ocean, and public participation in the decision-making process;

For the first time, NJ law recognized ecosystem health, ecosystem based management and the precautionary principle – and all in one piece of legislation! The only thing I regret about that bill was going along with Senator Smith’s demand that no new DEP land use powers be included.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the lead State agency for management of the ocean, fisheries, and the coastal zone under federal and State laws.

However, because DEP’s various policy, planning, management, and regulatory programs historically ignored critically important issues that impacted the ocean and fisheries, we drafted the bill to improve the science, expand the focus of, and strengthen DEP’s programs.

The bill did important things:

First, it established a Council to provide science based recommendations to DEP on ways to improve ocean protection:

The council shall have the following powers, duties, and responsibilities:

     (1) to request from the commissioner any information concerning ecosystem-based management as it may deem necessary;

     (2) to consider any matter relating to the protection, maintenance, and restoration of coastal and ocean resources;

     (3) to submit, from time to time, to the commissioner any recommendations which the council deems necessary that will protect, maintain and restore coastal and ocean resources;

     (4) to study ecosystem-based management approaches;

     (5) to study any policies, plans, and rules and regulations adopted by the department that impact coastal and ocean resources;

     (6) to study and investigate coastal and habitat protection;

     (7) to coordinate and develop plans for a research agenda on ecosystem-based management;

     (8) to consider data and any other relevant information on the overall health of New Jersey’s coastal and ocean resources in order to document how the State is meeting the goal of protecting, maintaining and restoring healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems; and

     (9) to hold public hearings at least once a year to take testimony from the public concerning ecosystem-based management approaches.

Second, it expanded DEP’s powers to include not only research, but implementation of “plans and programs”:

w.    Conduct research and implement plans and programs to promote ecosystem-based management.

Third, it provided a start up appropriation of $75,000 to get the ball rolling.

Obviously, that Council and the DEP “plans and programs” would be the perfect vehicle to develop climate related ocean and fisheries impacts and the State Ocean plans that Mr. MacDonald now calls for.

But that is not likely to happen.

As I recall, DEP did amend the CAFRA regulations to include “ecosystem based management” as a goal and policy of the DEP’s Coastal Management Program.

But Council members were never appointed by Gov. Corzine (who supported and signed the bill into law), so nothing ever became of the Council.

[As a previously wrote in a post on a bill that would create a State Oceanographer:

[* correction – BC advises that there were some Corzine nominees confirmed by the Senate at the end of the Corzine term. See this for nominees. Apologies for that error.]

The new DEP powers and policies established by the bill, especially including “precaution” and “ecosystem based management”.

Then Gov. Christie defunded it and tried to abolish it via Executive  Order #15 and Executive Order #40 (see this post for full details).

I then recall that DEP Commissioner Bob Martin included the Council is his recommendations on which advisory bodies to terminate.

But I’ve been out of the loop for so long that I’ve forgotten how it all turned out. I’m almost positive I wrote about it (yes, in this 2010 “dead Zone” post) and this 2010 “State of the Shore”) but I’m now too lazy to do the research. I sent my friend Benson a note asking him how it turned out and will report back.

Tragic, because this is another huge missed opportunity –

And not one NJ based foundation funded coastal or ocean organization (i.e. ALS, COA, Barnegat Bay Partnership, NJ Audubon, et al) or advocate has ever said squat about any of it – including the eminent Tony MacDonald, the folks at Monmouth University (and Rutgers) and the reporters at NJ Spotlight!

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