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The First 50 Years of Sea Grant: Making the Law and Policy Connection

The First 50 Years of Sea Grant: Making the Law and Policy Connection

The development of Sea Grant's Legal Network and the National Sea Grant Law Center


By Stephanie Otts, National Sea Grant Law Center

The National Sea Grant College Program has been “putting science to work for America’s coastal communities” for 50 years. During this year of celebration, Sea Grant programs around the country will share iconic images and stories of oceanographers, fisheries biologists, and other scientists whose research discoveries increased our knowledge of ocean, coastal, and freshwater ecosystems. Sea Grant law and policy programs have been there every step of the way, undertaking critical law and policy research, translating scientific information for policy makers, and reducing legal barriers to the adoption of innovative management strategies. 

The National Sea Grant Legal Network. Image: The National Sea Grant Law Center.

Over the years, individual Sea Grant programs have funded a variety of legal and policy research projects and outreach activities to address emerging community needs. In 1971, Oregon State University was one of the first universities to receive Sea Grant College status, and initially provided support to the Ocean Resources Law Program at the University of Oregon. Additional Sea Grant legal programs became part of the network when the University of North Carolina, Louisiana State University, and the Mississippi-Alabama Consortium received College status in 1976, 1978 and 1980, respectively. New York Sea Grant supported publication of the Sea Grant Law and Policy Journal from 1978-1980. Although they have evolved over time, all of these programs are still with us today. Attorneys working for the Ocean and Coastal Law Center at the University of Oregon, the North Carolina Coastal Resources, Law, Planning and Policy Center, the Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program, and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program continue to make significant contributions to policy discussions regarding the management of our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources on the federal, state, and local levels.


A growing awareness of the critical role law and policy can play in Sea Grant’s work on a national level led to the establishment of the National Sea Grant Law Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2002. And in 2003, Rhode Island joined the Sea Grant legal family when it established the Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program, a partnership of Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Department of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams School of Law.

In addition to these formal programs, the Sea Grant Legal Network includes attorneys working with Sea Grant programs throughout the country, including Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Washington, New York, and Hawaii. Our work supports Sea Grant efforts in all focus areas. For instance, Sea Grant attorneys are helping local governments increase their participation in the Community Rating System and adapt to sea level rise. We are working with state agencies to improve laws and policies related to shellfish aquaculture, derelict fishing gear, and invasive species. Finally, by working with law students at our respective universities, we are also training the next generation of attorneys to tackle the challenging management issues that are sure to arise in the next 50 years.

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