Budgets for Climate Change Studies and NOAA Under Attack

White House

Defunding Programs Could Harm Fisheries and Fishing Communities

Last week many in the fishing community were talking about President Trump’s budget and its impact on climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the fish.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), more than 40 species have been rebuilt. The law needs to remain strong so it can continue to manage the fish for the benefit all the people of the United States of America and not just for special interest groups or individual states. In order to maintain sound fisheries management, NOAA needs to be funded at a level that allows scientists and fish managers to explore, develop and enact new and better ways of collecting and analyzing data, especially with climate change affecting fish and fish movement in an ever-changing ocean.

Early last month, Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., the new U.S. Secretary of the Department of Commerce (which oversees NOAA) addressed employees when he first arrived with some encouraging news. He referenced launching more weather satellites for NOAA, maintaining a commitment to obtain maximum sustainable yield for fisheries, and achieving a goal of improved timelines, accuracy, breadth and depth of Commerce data output.

This encouraging news was followed by the release of President Trump’s 2018 budget that has devastated the scientific community in this country. Article headlines from the Washington Post to Science Magazine have been quite alarming including, “Proposed budget for Commerce would cut funds for NOAA,” “NOAA Sea Grant program lead list of cuts,” “Trump budget cut could be devastating for NOAA Scientist in Boulder,” “Trump’s budget would hammer climate program at EPA, NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Energy,” and “Trump’s budget is everything scientists have been fearing.”

Brad Plumer said on Vox.com:

“What’s clear is that Trump wants the US government to pull back sharply from any effort to stop global warming, adapt to its impacts — or even study it further. That includes eliminating much of the work the Environmental Protection Agency is doing to research climate impacts and limit emissions. It includes scaling back the Department of Energy’s efforts to accelerate low-carbon energy. It also includes cuts to NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs. The proposal would also eliminate the Sea Grant program at NOAA, which helps coastal communities adapt to a warmer world.”

The President’s budget outline mainly offers top-line budget parameters for agencies with little detail. A detailed budget will be offered by the White House in May on how it would like to fund and/or cut programs. The Congress then votes on proposals approving or rejecting them.

All of this is very concerning as fisheries management relies heavily on science and research for data collection, understanding the impact of climate change on fish and ecosystems and much, much, more.

Here are some budget cut highlights that impact the fish, fishing communities, ecosystem-based management and climate change work.

First, NOAA’s Sea Grant program, used by 33 states to provide grants to help coastal communities deal with the challenges of climate change, would be eliminated. This is not a budget reduction but a program elimination.

“Including Sea Grant, Trump’s budget would eliminate $250 million in NOAA programs for coastal management,” said Plumer.

In Rhode Island, like many other states, the Sea Grant Program is a federal-state-university partnership. The program, which is based at the University of Rhode Island, designs and supports research, outreach and education programs that foster coastal and marine stewardship.

For example, Rhode Island Sea Grant programs have helped to expand aquaculture in the state, mitigate beach erosion through use of offshore deposits, and address Rhode Island Marine Trades industry workforce skill gaps. Sea Grant studies have also explored the social impacts of ocean wind farms with the aim of encouraging ocean wind farm development on the east coast.

For the next two years, Rhode Island Sea Grant planned to improve understanding of shellfish (bivalve and gastropod) stock assessments and population dynamics with a focus on resource management implications. Additional plans called for studying the impacts of climate change on finfish and shellfish population dynamics in Rhode Island waters, with emphasis on Narragansett Bay species and fisheries. All of this work would be eliminated.

Regarding other parts of the country, John Upton of Climate Central said, “Sea Grant research has helped West Coast shellfish farmers cope with water acidification, provided advice to Maryland residents about coping with worsening floods, and promoted the use of grooved nails in roofs to secure panels during storms in the Northeast.”

In addition to eliminating the Sea Grant program, Trump’s budget includes a 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget, from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion. This includes zeroing out funds for many climate programs, including the agency’s work to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its Energy Star program, the voluntary program that helps companies produce energy efficient products. In the Department of Energy, Trump plans to impose a 17.9 percent cut, about $2 billion, from core energy and science programs intended to accelerate the transition to new (and cleaner) energy technologies. The Paris Agreement on climate change sets aside funding to help poor countries adapt to climate change and supports a host of other clean energy/climate change initiatives.

An early budget report that appeared in the Washington Post in early March outlined an overall 17 percent budget cut for NOAA. In a Science & Environment article for Daily Camera, staff writer Charlie Brennan said, “One critic of those proposed (NOAA) cuts pointed out that the $990 million savings would fund the Department of Defense for 12 hours.”

As fishermen, we need to help communicate these proposed cuts to others and share how they will impact the fish and fishing community. We need research-based fisheries management programs that consider climate change and its impact on the fish and fish movement so we can grow fish populations to abundance. The Trump-proposed cuts to NOAA and climate change programs will greatly harm the long-term health of fisheries and fishing communities.

About Dave Monti

Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a vice president of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association, an active member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council.

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