The policy would not create new regulations or immediately alter drilling plans or fisheries management. But
The initiative culminates more than a year of work by a federal
Calling the BP oil spill ravaging the
The council would include top federal scientists and officials from a variety of agencies, including national security experts, environmental regulators and managers of ocean commerce.
The recommendations embrace a controversial practice called marine spatial planning, a zoning process of sorts that seeks to manage waters in the way some cities manage factories and strip malls. The process could result in confining activities such as drilling, shipping and conservation to areas the planners deem best-suited to each use.
Nine regional groups — consisting of state, federal
and tribal officials — would draft plans for conservation and use of
ocean resources that would have to be approved by the
The same would be true for any new offshore drilling projects. Currently, Interior officials develop drilling plans under a public-comment process within their department.
The recommendations do not specify their effect on offshore drilling. Administration officials said the new policy would not prejudge or conflict with future findings of the bipartisan commission Obama had charged with investigating the oil gusher.
But the administration says coordinated, stewardship-heavy ocean management is likely to "really change" practices in nearly every marine activity, drilling included. The final task force report predicts that the changes would help restore fish populations, protect human health and "rationally allow" for ocean uses such as energy production.
"This sets the nation on a path toward much more comprehensive planning to both conservation and sustainable use of (ocean) resources," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy had not been officially announced.
The first draft of the policy, released in September, drew heavy criticism from some quarters, including industry and recreational anglers concerned that sport fishing might be restricted or banned.
After a deluge of criticism and meetings with fishing and boating groups, the administration modified the recommendations to emphasize the importance of fishing and ocean recreation, calling them "critical to the economic, social, and cultural fabric of our country."
The recommendations do not include curbs on recreational fishing. But the mere prospect of marine spatial planning has drawn skepticism from ocean users.
Oil and gas officials are concerned too. They have repeatedly urged the administration not to adopt any planning process that could restrict offshore drilling.
Last fall, for example, a representative of the
The new plan would emphasize nine areas under the
broad banner of marine stewardship and conservation, including improved
scientific research and mapping; helping coastal communities adapt to
climate change and ocean acidification, particularly in
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