Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dear Mr. President:

Sheril & Chris have been doing a helluva job at ScienceDebate, working to get science on the lips of the current Presidential Candidates. One of the 14 proposed questions is even about the oceans. While those questions are nice and open-ended, meant to encourage free-heeling thinking, we savvy blogfish folks know that the answers will be written by diligent staffers long in advance.* Let's face it -- no one, not even the President of the U.S.A., can be expected to know everything about everything which means they need exceptional advisors.

That's where you come in.

Two august Commissions have proposed a suite of recommendations to improve U.S. ocean policy, but so far Presidential leadership has been lacking (last year, the feds received D grades in funding and reform). Clearly, the wisdom of experts has not moved the White House. Time for the wisdom of crowds. Smart, blogging crowds who spend a lot of time thinking about the oceans. Blogfish wants your recommendations for what the next President can do for the sea. Here are a few of mine to start things off.

1) Fund ocean research, and make it widely available. I almost cried reading this article in WIRED about how petabytes of data make hypothesis testing irrelevant. My god, in the sea we're squabbling over bits. In fisheries, you're lucky if you get a trawl survey every three years. West coast labs have salmon stockpiled in freezers they could decode if someone would just fund their genetics research. It's a running joke that NOAA subsists on the rounding errors from NASA's budget. Enough. We're close to a tipping point, with the Census of Marine Life and acoustic tagging programs underway, with the databases being pulled together at UBC and Dalhousie. Stop fighting over whose OOS is better, kick Google Oceans into gear, and start the Mission to Planet Ocean. Bring in schoolkids and volunteer divers, physicists and green energy companies. Aggregate current and historic data so we can get past confidentiality constraints. The pieces are there, waiting for someone to fit them together.

2) Let fishermen retire. For years, I've been part of an unusual coalition of shrimp trawlers, Alaskan pollock fishermen, environmental groups and industry lobbyists, all of us working to reform something called the Capitol Construction Fund. Seventy years ago, the fund served as a tax incentive to build larger boats; today, that's the last thing most fishermen need. Thousands of fishermen have their own money saved in these funds that they should be able to roll into IRAs. It's a small change in the tax rules that would make a big difference, and I'd encourage the President to add it to his economic plan.

Blogfish will be soliciting ideas all month and compiling the best of them. There's plenty of stuff to tackle -- renewable energy, acidification, bioprospecting, Law of the Sea -- so what's your wish for the next administration?

* Full disclosure: I was a fellow on the Senate Subcommittee for Oceans & Fisheries when John McCain was Chair of the Commerce Committee.


Kevin Zelnio said...

I never knew about this issue you describe in point 2. It sounds like a good plan.

As someone on the job hunt, I would love to see more jobs in ocean sciences at all educations levels. Which could follow after your point 1.

But mostly, I want to see programs and initiatives in place that exhort the value of the oceans to the general public. I want everyone in Kansas and Montana to be just as passionate and knowlegable about the seas as a someone who grew up on a coastal community. People need to be more aware of how the ocean affects their lives in many ways, even when they are half a continent away.

Anonymous said...

To protect consumers and give them a chance at affecting the seafood market, the next administration should give dedicate more resources to testing seafood. We test less than 1% of seafood that we import (as compared to Europe, which tests 20-40%). We also have a major problem with mislabeling (1 out of every 3 fish in this country are mislabeled).