National Policy Elevates Importance of Connections Between Rivers and Oceans

Wednesday, September 11, 2013: 11:00 AM
Hoffman (The Marriott Little Rock)
Thomas Bigford , Office of Habitat Conservation, NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD
New policies and priorities have heightened expectations related to managing our nation's regional ecosystems, including those along the coast that support anadromous species and the marine populations that depend on those riverine species for forage. This presentation will summarize recent changes that promise to shift traditional approaches by resource managers. The new paradigm was prompted by facts. Routine solutions have not resolved long-standing problems with fish passage, coastal wetland losses continue at unexplained rates with implications to nursery grounds of many highly valued species, estuarine waters remains compromised by stressors from chemicals and sounds, nearshore fish and habitat health suffer from anthropogenic pressures that are marginally reduced from decades ago, and the societal benefits derived from offshore commercial and recreational species reflect those regional shortcomings. With realistic goals based on new approaches, public and private sector partners now have a heightened focus on new solutions. The usual is no longer acceptable, even with increased budget scrutiny and political acrimony. Not since the 1970s have we seen such a clamor for new strategies and a demand for improved success. The National Ocean Policy includes a priority on regional ecosystem protection and restoration. Extending inland, the National Fish Habitat Partnership has created 18 regional, state-lead fish habitat partnerships to advance fish habitat protection and restoration. Multiple agencies have launched place-based programs at a landscape scale, again with an eye on a regional or ecosystem scale. NOAA has a new Habitat Blueprint that adds breadth to its efforts, with a focus on regional prorities, systematic and strategic science, and the policies and legislation needed for success. These efforts and others with similar intentions promise to push our collective efforts beyond the status quo, especially where traditional approaches are not working. This might be especially true in our coastal watersheds, where most anadromous fish populations are severely depressed and lost ecosystem services downstream are only now being documented. One measure of these fractured ecosystems is the reduced harvest of marine predators who depend on forage coming from coastal rivers. New policies, combined with our knowledge of priority stressors, habitats, and species could provide a timely opportunity to shift the way our nation's coastal rivers are managed. Now might be the time to move more earnestly from improving fish passage to removing blockages, from counting fish to documenting socio-economic benefits, and from degraded watersheds to functioning ecosystems wiht multiple ecosystem services including commercial and recreational fishing.