HONOLULU - Obama administration officials visited Hawaii on Thursday to hear opinions on how it should shape a new national policy on oceans.
As more people expand their use of the oceans, the potential for competition among users of the ocean is growing, be they fishers, fish farm operators, recreational divers, cargo shipping companies, or military services like the Navy and the Coast Guard.
This is helping drive a need to develop a new policy governing these sometimes competing uses to prevent conflict and ensure that the nation has healthy oceans and coastlines.
So far, the administration has outlined nine priorities for the oceans, including improving water quality and helping communities adapt to climate change.
Andy Winer, the director of the office of strategic initiatives and partnerships at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the policy also aims to boost coordination among the 20-some federal agencies that work with the oceans, coastal areas and Great Lakes.
This should help the government avoid bad decisions so that, for example, fishers don't wake up to discover a wave energy project being built in prime fishing grounds.
"It's a smart approach to how we're going to use the ocean, and try to get those competing uses to sit down in advance of making decisions and to sit down and think how things can actually work together," Winer said in an interview.
The administration held a "listening session" in Honolulu on Thursday to receive feedback on its priorities.
Ron Tubbs, a tropical aquarium fisherman, said he wanted to make sure the government addressed runoff, pollution and the sustainable management of fisheries. He also urged officials to work closely with experts at Hawaii's state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Inga Gibson, the Hawaii state director of Humane Society of the United States, asked the administration to place greater emphasis on protecting coral reefs. One aspect of this, she said, would be examining the growing trade in coral reef wildlife, particularly aquarium fish.
The meeting set up Internet video links to Kauai, Maui and the Big Island as well as American Samoa, Guam and Saipan so people could comment from various locations in the Pacific.
The administration has already held similar meetings in Jacksonville, Fla., and Anchorage, Alaska, and will be holding meetings in six more states - including New Hampshire, Texas and Oregon - over the next month.
The public may also submit comments through the White House website.
Winer stressed that the new policy doesn't create any new bureaucracies or regulations.
"We're trying to harmonize the rules we have now," he said.
Winer, who lived in Hawaii for 25 years before moving to Washington and who ran President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign in the state, said having an island-born president who understands how important it is to have healthy oceans brought the issue to the forefront.
"A lot of it was political will - the willingness to get federal agencies to sit in a room over a period of months and actually hash out how it would work," Winer said.