Capitol Hill Oceans Week was a huge success!

IMG_1038I recently got back from a very successful, productive, and fun trip to Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW) in Washington, DC! Myself and 7 other students from last semester’s ocean policy class (taught by Dr. Frank Muller-Karger and Dr. Mark Luther) organized the trip and the various meetings that we had. I have to say that over the past several weeks I learned a lot about organizing a large group for such a trip.

Firstly, I want to say a HUGE thank you to Dean Jackie Dixon at the College of Marine Science for her generous funding for this trip. Without her help, this trip would not have been possible.

The Issues

The issues we discussed during the week were largely focused around the National Endowment for the Oceans Act (recently passed in the Senate as an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act), which aims to promote protection and conservation of U.S. oceans and Great Lakes, the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act (which will do a lot to combat seafood fraud, support American fisherman, and support the many jobs and monies that stem from productive American fisheries), and the challenges ahead for the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. We also spoke some about restoration from the BP oil spill in the Gulf, and immigration reform (which affects a HUGE number of international students in higher education science programs across the country).

Meeting Highlights

IMG_1434Upon first arriving in DC we met with the communications staff at the American Geophysical Union (AGU), to get a briefing on how to have a successful meeting with Congressmen and their staff. Several of us then met with Rep. Ed Markey’s office to discuss seafood fraud and voice our support for the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood ActRep. Markey (D-MA) is the sponsor of the Act in the House, in addition to being an advocate for the environment and the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

On Day 2, all of us went to the opening CHOW keynote, given by Dr. Kathy Sullivan, the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere (and a former astronaut!) entitled Healthy Oceans and Coasts for A Resilient America. She stressed how to take action to make oceans and coasts more resilient in times of increasing vulnerability from storms and other disasters.

Most of the group then met with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who represents Tampa and St. Petersburg, and supports many issues that we care about here in the Gulf, including environmental cleanup, economic reparations, and scientific research following the BP oil spill. She is a big supporter of the College of Marine Science, and the USF-led consortia to study the impacts of the BP oil spill (for which she secured $10M in 2010). She was very excited and supportive of our trip, and voiced her concern for the issues we brought up.

Several of us also met with Paul Cough, the Director of Oceans and Coastal Protection Division at the EPA, to discuss their role in the National Ocean Policy (NOP) Implementation Plan and actions they hope to take moving forward. To finish the day before heading to the NMSF awards dinner, we met with staffers from the offices of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that work on the Senate Oceans Caucus, again to discuss our various topics and get an idea of their priorities.

IMG_1044On Day 3, we all headed to Silver Spring to meet with Glenn Boldevich (the Chief of Policy, Planning and Analysis), Senior Policy Advisor Jennifer Lukens from NOAA’s National Ocean Service, along with others from NMFS and Woods Hole. We discussed some general history of ocean policy in the U.S., how the NOP was drafted (a process that made me exhausted just hearing it), and the goals and challenges for the NOP implementation plan. It was especially great to get Jennifer’s input since she served as NOAA’s representative on the task force that formed the final recommendations for the NOP.

Next we all went to the Consortium for Ocean Leadership where we met with Kevin Wheeler, the VP and Director of Public Affairs, and discussed the opportunities for young scientists to enter into the policy realm and what it’s like to advocate for ocean policy in DC. Some of us then headed to Don Young’s (R-AK) office to discuss our issues. This meeting was very successful – we felt like we really informed the staffer on our issues.

IMG_1064On Day 4 we had just one last meeting with the Office of Science Technology Policy, the executive office that advises the President on science. We had a great discussion with them about the NOP and implementation, how scientists can get experience with policy, and the potential for scientists to enter in politics. The best part: the office was right across the street from the White House!

What Did We Learn?

There are a lot of people in DC that are fighting and advocating for healthy oceans and coasts, and supporting the science that we need! Large pieces of legislation, like the NOP, take a lot of collaboration, in addition to a lot of hard work. It seems to me that there is a need for more scientists in Washington that can communicate science, and its importance, to policy makers and the public at large.

And while the National Ocean Policy takes a step in the right direction, it is an executive order and there are no monetary appropriations for it right now. There are going to be a lot of challenges for the NOP implementation, both short and long term, because many in DC are opposed to the NOP by virtue of the fact that it was an executive order.

Priorities for ocean sciences in the near future, as told to us by several agencies, will be fisheries, ocean acidification, and increased traffic in the far north Arctic due to warming.

The Endowment Act has passed through the Senate on the WRDA, but it’s now up to the House to pass it along to the next phase. Many said that it’s unlikely that it will happen this year, and we may need to wait until next year to see progress on passing the Endowment.

Other Trip Highlights

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Ready for the NMSF Awards dinner

On Day 2 we all went to the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation Leadership Awards Dinner, where Dr. Jane Lubchenco received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) received the Leadership Award for his work in advocating for ocean protection, stronger environmental protections, and combating climate change. Both gave great talks about the importance of protecting our oceans and coasts. This was a black-tie optional event, and I must say that we all looked very spiffy! 

On Day 3 we went to the NOAA fish fry at the Dept. of Commerce building, where we ate a variety of sustainable seafood delicacies from around the country. Chefs were flown in to DC for the event. King crab legs were just one of the many delicious things on the menu!

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And of course when we had some free time we did a little sight seeing! For registering for CHOW we got free tickets to the Newseum, where the event was held. I would highly recommend the Newseum to anyone visiting DC. I also got to see the Botanical gardens (another must-see!) and the group got a staff-led tour of the Capitol, set up by Rep. Castor. All in all it was a great trip, with many insightful and informative meetings and a lot of new great contacts in DC!

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