Though funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration amounts to less than one-half of 1 percent of discretionary federal spending, it pays outsize dividends for Maine. The people at the center of our state’s $700 million commercial fishing industry depend on NOAA’s weather forecasts, research and fisheries management services. A proposal to slash the agency’s budget is a short-sighted move that would save pennies now only to forfeit dollars later.
The White House plan, first reported last week in The Washington Post, would roll back NOAA’s budget by 17 percent. Among the targeted programs are the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Weather Service, which each would see 5 percent cuts; the satellite division, which would face a 22 percent reduction in funding, and the Sea Grant program, which would be abolished.
None of this is good news for Maine’s marine sector. National Weather Service wind and wave height forecasts are essential to fishermen. So is the research conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which guides decisions about where, how and when to fish and enables fishermen to build business plans around their catch. What’s more, the steep reductions in the satellite division’s budget would deprive the weather and fisheries management offices of data that are crucial to their mission, compounding the harm done by the relatively small direct cuts to the programs themselves.
And it doesn’t say much for the much-touted real-world business savvy of the Trump team that they’d propose gutting the Sea Grant program, the marine equivalent of the federal extension and research service for farmers. The University of Maine gets $1.2 million from NOAA to run Sea Grant and leverages $600,000 more from the state and other sources. But as Island Institute President Rob Snyder told the Press Herald, “They’re not just an agency that’s funded and sits in Orono.”
In Maine, Sea Grant has funded studies on how to monitor juvenile lobsters so researchers can more reliably predict the health of the stock; helped monitor and mitigate the marine pests that afflict shellfish harvests; and provided mussel, scallop and kelp farmers with research and methodological expertise. According to a NOAA analysis released in January, the $67.3 million in federal funding spent on Sea Grant in 2015 helped support $575 million in economic development and over 20,000 jobs nationwide.
Congressional and White House budget talks have yet to start, so the final numbers could change. But given how deeply the NOAA spending cuts could disrupt the functioning of the fishing industry, it’s important for Mainers to make their opposition to the proposal clear, as soon and as often as possible.