Pres­i­dent Trump’s pro­posed bud­get cuts could mean the end of the Na­tional Sea Grant Col­lege Pro­gram.

Soundings - - Contents - By John Clarke

In late March, Pres­i­dent Trump pro­posed a bud­get that would slash the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fund­ing by 17 per­cent and elim­i­nate sev­eral ed­u­ca­tional and re­search pro­grams, if Congress ap­proves. One of the pro­posed cuts would elim­i­nate NOAA’s $ 73 mil­lion Na­tional Sea Grant Col­lege Pro­gram, which sup­ports coastal re­search con­ducted through 33 univer­sity pro­grams across the coun­try, in­clud­ing ev­ery coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico, Lake Cham­plain and Guam.

The Sea Grant pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to Trump’s bud­get plan, is a low pri­or­ity that pri­mar­ily has a state and lo­cal im­pact. “Mr. Trump is try­ing to elim­i­nate us, but we are one of the so­lu­tions,” says Paul An­der­son, di­rec­tor of Maine Sea Grant. “It’s pretty ev­i­dent the process the ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone through to iden­tify these cuts was not ar­tic­u­late. It was just line-item math­e­mat­ics.”

An­der­son says he is “mys­ti­fied” by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and feels its de­ci­sion to cut the pro­gram puts the na­tion’s health and safety at risk. “The things we have cre­ated in this na­tion are through lessons learned — from cre­ativ­ity and mis­takes,” he says. “You cre­ate elec­tri­cal safety stan­dards be­cause some­one was elec­tro­cuted. There’s a role gov­ern­ment has. Trump’s ap­proach is so naive to any of those struc­tures that it puts our na­tion at risk for all kinds of things. Health, well-be­ing and good, safe, clean do­mes­tic food and wa­ter are im­por­tant.”

The pres­i­dent has prided him­self on cut­ting bu­reau­cratic red tape and con­nect­ing the right peo­ple to the right jobs to find the right so­lu­tions, says Syl­vain De Guise of Con­necti­cut Sea Grant. “It’s ironic,” he says. “There’s a disconnect be­tween the pres­i­dent say­ing he wants to cut the red tape and help out the reg­u­lar Joes and cut­ting our pro­gram. That is ex­actly what Sea Grant is re­ally good at.”

How would the cuts af­fect boaters? Through wa­ter qual­ity is­sues, says Chris Ed­mon­ston, pres­i­dent of the BoatUS Foun­da­tion. “It’s one of those be­hind-the-scene pro­grams that peo­ple don’t give the recog­ni­tion it de­serves,” he says. “To lose a pro­gram like this might not have an ef­fect this year, but it will cer­tainly have an im­pact down the road. Peo­ple will look around and won­der what hap­pened.” A spokes­woman for NOAA de­clined to com­ment. Dur­ing its 51 years, the Sea Grant pro­gram has cre­ated a net­work of more than 300 in­sti­tu­tions and 3,000 sci­en­tists, en­gi­neers, ed­u­ca­tors, stu­dents and outreach ex­perts work­ing to ad­dress such is­sues as coastal haz­ards, sus­tain­able coastal devel­op­ment and seafood safety. The pro­gram has tack­led such is­sues as pop­u­la­tion growth and devel­op­ment in coastal com­mu­ni­ties; prepa­ra­tion and re­sponse to hur­ri­canes, coastal storms and tsunamis; and un­der­stand­ing hu­man in­ter­ac­tions with the marine en­vi­ron­ment. The pro­gram also has pro­vided re­search in fish and shell­fish farm­ing and fish­eries man­age­ment.

“We’ve been suc­cess­ful with link­ing uni­ver­si­ties and science with real-world prob­lems,” An­der­son says. “We’re good at bring­ing a sci­en­tist to­gether with a fish­er­man to de­sign bet­ter ways to catch fish. I know it’s a clichŽ, but in­stead of giv­ing the fish­er­men a fish, we give them a fish­ing pole. We are good at get­ting peo­ple in­volved in solv­ing their own prob­lems.”

The pro­gram’s re­la­tion­ship to the com­mu­ni­ties it serves is sim­ple, Deguise says: “We live here, we work here, we play here. Your prob­lems are our prob­lems.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is over­look­ing much of what Sea Grant pro­grams have ac­com­plished, An­der­son says, cit­ing the safe seafood stan­dard in the fed­eral Haz­ard Anal­y­sis Crit­i­cal Con­trol Point pro-

gram, which ad­dresses food safety. “It’s rel­a­tively mun­dane, but it’s a great way of get­ting safe seafood,” An­der­son says. “That’s some­thing we take for granted. We have sys­tems here that are safe. You go to the mar­ket here, and you’re safe when you buy mus­sels. You go to Beijing, and you take a risk.”

Mit­i­gat­ing coastal haz­ards is an­other key el­e­ment of Sea Grant pro­grams. “A lot of our states have a long his­tory of work­ing with haz­ards on the coast, on hur­ri­canes and sea lev­els ris­ing,” An­der­son says. “This is sig­nif­i­cant. A lot of these towns are vul­ner­a­ble.”

Along the New Eng­land coast, Sea Grant has helped states re­search, de­velop and sup­port the pro­duc­tion and cul­ture tech­niques of na­tive sugar kelp, lead­ing to new kelp aqua­cul­ture busi­nesses in Con­necti­cut, New York, Rhode Is­land, Mas­sachusetts and Maine. An­other suc­cess story is sea kelp pro­duc­tion, which is at an all-time high.

Sea Grant Con­necti­cut has helped de­velop stan­dard han­dling prac­tices and guid­ance, and a pro­cess­ing and mar­ket­ing hub for aqua­cul­tured kelp. The Con­necti­cut pro­gram also cre­ated the Con­necti­cut Shell­fish Ini­tia­tive, a mul­ti­year ef­fort to work with com­mer­cial and recre­ational shell­fish­er­men, along with in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned about shell­fish reefs and restora­tion. Thirty-five rec­om­men­da­tions were cre­ated.

“We just started to de­velop an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan for achiev­ing those rec­om­men­da­tions,” says Nancy Bal­com, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of Con­necti­cut Sea Grant.

In the Florida Keys, Mon­roe County com­mis­sion­ers say that if the pro­posed bud­get cuts hold, they would lose a sponge-restora­tion project to help pre­serve wa­ter qual­ity, an ar­ti­fi­cial-reef study that helped cre­ate un­der­wa­ter at­trac­tions and fish habi­tat, and a $75,000 al­lo­ca­tion to­ward mod­el­ing the ef­fects of sea-level rise.

Iron­i­cally, one area ben­e­fit­ing from the Sea Grant pro­gram is Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Palm Beach, Florida. Sea Grant helped Palm Beach and ad­ja­cent coun­ties de­velop a re­gional cli­mate strat­egy and re­in­force storm de­fenses, ac­cord­ing to ProPublica.

In Louisiana, Sea Grant helps sched­ule shrimp and oys­ter sea­sons an­nu­ally and as­sists in marsh­land restora­tion. The pro­gram has de­fend­ers on both sides of the aisle there, Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

In Alaska, where Sea Grant helps fund re­search at the Univer­sity of Alaska in Fair­banks, the pro­gram tracks the eco­nomic vi­tal­ity of the seafood in­dus­try and mea­sures the ef­fects of cli­mate change. “The pro­gram is dear to my heart,” says U.S. Rep. Don Young, a Repub­li­can from Alaska, in an April bi­par­ti­san let­ter of sup­port. “We’ll con­tinue to fund that. It works.”

In New York, sev­eral ed­u­ca­tors gath­ered at a re­cent sem­i­nar to dis­cuss the pro­posed Sea Grant cut and how it might af­fect stu­dents and fu­ture sci­en­tists. “I mean, how do you re­place that?” high school bi­ol­ogy teacher Dan Mainville won­dered on North Coun­try Pub­lic Ra­dio. “I don’t think you can. To re­move that fund­ing is ridicu­lous — coun­ter­in­tu­itive.”

Twenty-three U.S. sen­a­tors are call­ing on Trump to keep the $73 mil­lion in fed­eral Sea Grant fund­ing for univer­sity re­search into coastal en­vi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate is­sues. A let­ter sent to the pres­i­dent, signed by sen­a­tors from 16 states, urges him to pre­serve the “fed­eral- lo­cal part­ner­ship that funds 33 uni­ver­si­ty­based re­search, ex­ten­sion and ed­u­ca­tion cen­ters.” The sen­a­tors cited the ben­e­fits from $67.3 mil­lion in 2015 fed­eral fund­ing for Sea Grant pro­grams, in­clud­ing an es­ti­mated $575 mil­lion in re­lated eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties. “Marine busi­nesses and fish­er­men in coastal com­mu­ni­ties rely on the knowl­edge and skills of Sea Grant staff and outreach ma­te­ri­als,” the let­ter states. “Ze­ro­ing out or cut­ting this fund­ing would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact, and we strongly urge you to re­con­sider this de­ci­sion.”

Eight sim­i­lar letters were sent to the White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, and to the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “The work­ing men and women are also writ­ing these letters,” An­der­son says. “Those are the voices we want to hear.”

BoatUS is mon­i­tor­ing bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions and try­ing to ed­u­cate the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion about the im­por­tance of the Sea Grant pro­gram. “They are very open-minded,” says Ed­mon­ston, who is also BoatUS vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs. “If you can point to the value of some­thing, they will lis­ten. We can clearly show that this is a pro­gram that works, is well-sup­ported and helps drive the econ­omy. I highly doubt this cut stays in the bud­get.”

If the pro­posed cut re­mains, the Sea Grant pro­gram could be elim­i­nated by the end of the sum­mer.

Any­one who spends time on the wa­ter ben­e­fits from Sea Grant’s work to en­hance en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship and pro­mote re­spon­si­ble use of ma­rine re­sources.

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