From the Editor: ‘Ocean Justice’

As 2023 was coming to a close, the Biden administration announced an initiative that could over time, impact commercial fishing areas along the West Coast, Bering Sea and Pacific Islands, especially those that have been, or could be, regarded as overfished. 

The administration’s first of its kind “U.S. Ocean Justice Strategy” which is meant to “advance environmental justice for communities that rely on the ocean for economic, cultural, spiritual, recreational and food security purposes,” was officially unveiled during the United Nations’ annual Conference of Parties (COP28) in December. 

The strategy, according to the Biden administration, is motivated by the recognition that many communities—including those who live near the ocean, that depend on marine resources, or that are part of the ocean economy— face unique circumstances that exacerbate existing challenges. 

“Some communities are disproportionately burdened by the negative outcomes of human activities in and around the ocean, such as coastal flooding, climate change, pollution, and overfishing,” the administration said in a statement. “These circumstances prevent many communities from sharing equitably in the benefits the ocean provides.” 

While speaking at a COP28 youth forum, White House Council for Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory announced the new strategy and reinforced the administration’s commitment to environmental justice. 

“The ocean is a life source for us all, but because of historic injustices and underinvestment, some communities are hit harder by devastating climate change impacts,” she said. “The Biden-Harris Administration’s new Ocean Justice Strategy will help to address historic inequities, improve the well-being of people in communities connected to the ocean, and safeguard a healthy ocean for everyone.” 

The strategy outlines overarching goals, principles, and practices that the federal government can adopt in order to provide long-term, sustainable benefits for people, communities and the environment. The stated goals include: 

Embedding Ocean Justice in federal activities by providing opportunities for meaningful community engagement, better incorporating equity into funding processes and budget development, embedding ocean justice into federal practices, and improving interagency coordination. 

Developing a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible federal ocean workforce by growing federal staffing capacity, increasing recruitment within the federal ocean workforce and leadership pipeline and recruiting and retaining students and early-career professionals; and 

Enhancing ocean justice through education, data and knowledge by expanding and improving ocean education and workforce development, considering and applying Indigenous Knowledge throughout federal research and development, applying an ocean justice lens to ocean research and ways of knowing, and expanding the federal tools used in characterizing social and environmental justice patterns to encompass ocean justice indicators. 

Although commercial fishing is only mentioned once in the announcement, it’s not difficult to connect the dots to see that at some point down the line, the strategy could in ways big and/or small affect the fishing industry. 

For example, additional areas could be declared as overfishing and made off limits for a period of time due to conservation efforts, or regions could be proclaimed as dedicated to sustenance fishing only, either temporarily or permanently. 

While there’s currently no indication of either of the above scenarios taking place in the near future, the very act of declaring and publicizing an ‘Ocean Justice’ strategy is a sign that changes are afoot, changes that could affect how people whose livelihood involves the ocean and the fish in it, earn their living. 

We’ll keep an eye on the situation and will alert you to anything that affects the commercial fishing community if and when it takes place.  

Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached by phone at (619) 313-4351 or via email at