American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

NRC Report on Improving Stewardship of Marine Areas (9-5-97)

The National Research Council (NRC) released a report this July entitled "Striking a Balance: Improving Stewardship of Marine Areas." The report addresses the growing concern that our current system of regulation does not adequately protect ocean resources. The committee used background papers and case studies of 11 regions where local communities had created unique solutions to solve conflicts with fishing rights, offshore drilling, and multiple usage to determine key ingredients of successful programs. Three general themes emerged which were the need for "coordination, information and participation." The report uses theses themes in its recommendations of methods to develop common national goals, expand opportunities for local and regional level policymaking, and increase the use of effective management tools. The report is intended to be used as a guide by both scientists and policymakers to better govern marine environments.

According to the study, current management of the coastal area is "inefficient and wasteful of both natural and economic resources." In addition to the federal government sharing jurisdiction with various state and local governments, seven federal agencies are responsible for regulating specific ocean issues such as mining, boating, or fisheries. This system results in a confusing and overlapping set of regulations and does not consider the cumulative effects of the different actions on the ocean. The report went on to state that political aspects inherent in government favor increasing current consumption of resources such as fish or minerals, and do not consider the negative effects and shortages on future generations.

In response to these difficulties, the report contains recommendations for both improved governance and a better management system. A successful marine governance program needs a framework which includes clearly stated goals, a defined geological area, mechanisms to involve stakeholders, and a joint federal-state effort. The committee also recommended the establishment of a national marine council and regional marine councils. A national marine council, with representatives from all involved federal agencies, would coordinate actions, establish priorities, and hold states accountable for their actions that affect the ocean. In high-conflict areas where solutions are difficult to reach and resources are vital to the region, regional marine councils would be established. The councils would exist to develop long-range plans, mediate and resolve disputes, and facilitate agreements. They are temporary, and members would be appointed by state governors and regional federal agency heads.

The committee also provided several suggestions to improve the management of oceans. First, they recommended increasing the use of traditionally land-based management techniques such as zoning, liability schemes, user charges and market rights to resolve conflicts over usage. Another effective way to allocate usage is to make parties legally liable for the economic damage their activities inflict on others. Estimating the value of non-marketed marine resources, such as recreation and ecosystem stability, is a way to increase their importance in decision-making. Using improved technology and stiffer penalties can increase the effectiveness and enforcement of current regulations. Finally, creative methods such as sport fishing licensing programs and bonds can increase financial support for protection programs.

The report originated in April 1993 following a NRC Marine Board forum on ocean issues where many participants agreed that "defining national goals and plans for the ocean is a critical prerequisite to both the economic investment and sound environmental stewardship of the ocean." The study was prepared by the NRC Committee on Marine Area Governance and Management under the direction of the Marine Board. The committee was chaired by William Eichbaum of the World Wildlife Fund. Committee members, which include former AGI Executive Director Charles Groat, had expertise in a broad range of issues, including ocean resources management, marine environmental science, economics, law, and political science. The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Minerals Management Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. For more information or a copy of the report, contact the National Resource Council or the National Academy Press at 800-624-6242.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated September 5, 1997

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