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The first ten years of NOAA's existence was a period of substantial growth and expansion -- a period which confirmed both the need for and benefits of an agency designed to improve our understanding of the earth system and its ocean and coastal resources. The Seventies saw the addition of numerous new programmatic responsibilities, largely the result of new legislation, which identified NOAA's role in national efforts to protect and conserve our environmental resources. These were years of intense environmental activity and NOAA's responsibilities were, in many cases, both obvious and essential.

A look at the Agency's budget over the first ten years provides a sense of the magnitude of the change this period brought. In 1971, NOAA activities were funded at nearly $300 million. By 1981, the Agency was fulfilling responsibilities requiring a close to $900 million budget. The Nation and NOAA were investing in a future that demanded a better understanding of how the oceanic and atmospheric systems defined the nature of the environment in which we lived and the resources on which we depended. The following chapter will highlight some of the more significant events in the first ten years of NOAA's life.


The primary task for NOAA's first Administrator was, of course, to design a management structure which would effectively coalesce the numerous, disparate programs and offices which were to make up this new Agency. By January 1971, an interim organization had been established around the following six major programmatic components.

• The National Marine Fisheries Service (managed through five regional offices);

• The Environmental Research Laboratories (composed of ten facilities across the country);

• The National Weather Service (managed through six regional offices);

• The Environmental Data Center (composed of the National Oceanographic Data Center, the National Climatic Center, and the National Geophysical Data Center);

• The National Ocean Survey (with Atlantic and Pacific Marine Centers, the Lake Survey Centers, and a number of seismology and geomagnetic stations and centers which supported NOAA's geodetic [Ed. geophysical] responsibilities); and

• The National Environmental Satellite Service (responsible for the Nation's operational weather satellites).

In addition, the Administrator was supported by five line offices responsible for:

• The NOAA Corps

• The National Sea Grant College Program;

• Environmental Systems (including the Data Buoy Project office, the Marine Minerals Technology Center, and the National Oceanographic Instrumentation Center);

• program planning; and

• administration and technical services.

Thus organized, NOAA was ready to begin the challenges facing a new Agency. As you might expect, this new Agency, with its numerous specific responsibilities, would undergo several reorganizations during its formative years. In some cases, organizational changes were associated with the enactment of legislation (e.g., the creation of a line organization for Coastal Zone Management); in other cases, organizational moves were made to combine related activities and improve management efficiency. Each of these reorganizations reflected NOAA's growth and maturity as an Agency. As our understanding of the earth system and its resources has grown, we have refined the management structure for the agency's related science and service responsibilities. Now let's look at some of the more significant moments, in NOAA's early history.


The fishery resource activities of NOAA, and the Nation, took a dramatic turn in 1976. Often referred to as the most significant piece of fishery legislation in the history of the United States, the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) established an innovative new management regime for U.S. commercial and recreational fish stocks within 200 miles of our coast. [24] Congress enacted the MFCMA in response to declines in U.S. commercial landings and dramatic increases in foreign catches off our coasts -- an area which supports 15-20% of the world's traditionally harvested fish resources. [25] The MFCMA established an exclusive U.S. Fishery Conservation Zone (between 3 and 200 miles off our coast) and charged the Department of Commerce/NOAA with responsibility for implementing the unique, new management system authorized by the Act. Regional Fishery Management Councils were established to prepare management plans for each major fishery. These management plans must take into account social and economic as well as biological and environmental factors affecting each fishery; and identify specific management objectives and the management measures required to achieve those objectives. The MFCMA charged the Secretary of Commerce, acting through NOAA, with responsibility for approving and implementing these Fishery Management Plans (FMP's) and, along with the Coast Guard, enforcing the associated fishery regulations. Thus, in 1976, NOAA and the Department of Commerce acquired specific management responsibilities in addition to the more traditional research and information collection activities required to provide the scientific underpinning for effective industry and management decisions. This legislation, and the dramatic new responsibilities it brought, have dominated the nature and focus of most of NOAA's fisheries programs.

In addition to "management and conservation," the MFCMA carries with it a charge to enhance the "development" of domestic U.S. fisheries. In many cases, this involves the increased utilization of species not traditionally harvested by U.S. fishermen. NOAA responded to this charge in the late 1970's by significantly enhancing their work with other Federal agencies, state and local governments, industry and consumers to develop such "underutilized" species. This effort has involved, among other activities:

• continued research on seafood product quality and safety;

• the provision of information on domestic and international market conditions;

• collaborative efforts with the State Department to remove barriers to U.S. exports; and

• support for the development of new technologies.

Since the late seventies, NOAA and the Department of Commerce have remained committed to an appropriate partnership with industry and the States in the development of U.S. fishery resources.

The era of heightened environmental awareness which characterized the 1970's brought with it a greater understanding of the critical role that coastal and estuarine habitats play in the life support system of many commercially important fish stocks.

Accordingly, the seventies saw the establishment of a strong "habitat protection" program in NOAA. The nature of NOAA's activities in this area has largely been determined by statutory requirements for NOAA analyses and comments on the environmental impacts of federal activities including: Environmental Impact Statement requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act, construction projects by the Army Corps of Engineers; dredge and fill permits associated with coastal development; and waste discharge permits under the Clean Water Act. Fulfilling these requirements involved the development and maintenance of strong NOAA research programs on the habitat requirements of important species and consistent monitoring of the quality of the marine environment.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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