Edward Ueber

The Planet Water

Recorded: April 16, 2014

Ed Ueber, a former sanctuary manager (Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank) with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been integral to ocean management and policy since the 1970s. He has worked successfully with fisherman, political figures, and shipping interests to protect ocean life. Ed shares his wisdom about the ocean, our relationship to it, and how we successfully can work with people who disagree with us.

Edward Ueber is a passionate defender of our nation’s marine resources and a former marine sanctuary manager with extensive knowledge about the ocean.  The ocean has been an integral part of Ed’s life since he was a child growing up near Long Island Sound.  He has been involved in professional marine activities since the 1960s, as a navigator and pilot in the Merchant Marines and on Navy nuclear submarines.  He received a MS in Fishery Economics and in 1976 he went to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Commission (NOAA) under the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In 1980, Ed was on the committee to review the Gulf of the Farallones as a possible marine sanctuary, and in 1981, it was designated as such. He became the sanctuary’s first superintendent managing Cordell Bank and the Gulf of the Farallones Sanctuary. He has also managed sections of the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary as well. Mr. Ueber would like to see all waters under similar protection as marine sanctuaries in California.

Edward Ueber has published peer-reviewed papers on fish biology, fishing techniques, global warming, fishery economics, fish trade, fishery management, wooden boat building, wooden ship reconstruction, oceanography and marine operations.

Some of his accomplishments include starting volunteer programs like the local Marine Sanctuary Beach Watch and SEALS (harbor seal protection and education) programs, opening three visitor centers (a new trend for the sanctuary system) and creating non-profit organizations, like the Farallon Marine Sanctuary Association.  He also upheld the Sanctuary program’s scientific mission with an intertidal monitoring program, a new ecosystem oceanographic evaluating system, and deep sea studies.

Some of his awards include the NOAA Excellence Award for Coastal Ocean Management and the “Local Ocean Hero” from the Smithsonian Institute’s Ocean Planet Exhibit (1996). Recent awards include the Distinguished Achievement Award from the University of Rhode Island for his sanctuary work, and the Bay Hero Award from the Bay Institute in 2014.

Edward Ueber:    Water is what this planet should be called, because that’s what drives this planet.  It should be “The Planet Water,” not the “Planet Earth.”


Huey Johnson:    Ed Ueber, welcome, good to see you again.

Edward Ueber:    Thank you Huey, nice to see you.

Huey Johnson:    You had a career in a agency relating to oceans as I recall.

Edward Ueber:    Yes, NOAA.

Huey Johnson:    NOAA, what does NOAA stand for?

Edward Ueber:    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Huey Johnson:    I think we first met when you were working on the Gulf of Farallones project.

Edward Ueber:    Yes.

Huey Johnson:    What was that about?

Edward Ueber:    Well, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, I was on the committee with fishermen and others, that established it in 1980, and it was designated in 1981.  The idea was, the government would set aside an ocean province and then hopefully be able to manage it as a unit, but making sure that there weren’t [unintelligible] like oil spills and things like that.  You know, they call you a “sanctuary manager,” but you really don’t manage the sanctuary, you try to manage the people who are affecting the resources.  Because of our goal to protect the resources, we’ve had great cooperation from conservation groups, but also from people like PCFFA, the Fishermen’s Association [Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association] and sports fishing interests, and shipping interests.  I thought I was–it was a good thing when you could get all these different people realizing that a healthy ocean is very important to everybody.

Edward Ueber:    In the ocean, pollution doesn’t keep in abounds.  It isn’t like a Love Canal where it’s there, and you can encapsulate it or something, it moves everywhere.  And over time, that’s the problem.  It’s movement, heat, carbon dioxide entrapment, they’ll go everywhere.  They may only occur in certain places, but over time, it would be a terrible change, because the ocean not only affects 50% of the food protein people around the world eat, but probably 50 to 70% of the oxygen that’s produced, is produced in the ocean.  And it’s the major influence on weather.  We don’t think about that, but a small change in the temperature of the water, changes where the high and low pressures go, and the spinning of the earth does the rest.  We need to manage the oceans in a way where we do no harm to them.  We need to manage what people do.  The ocean is not required for life on earth, it’s only required for human life on earth.  So the earth is going to be here, and there’ll be lots of life, but we won’t be here to see it, that’s all.


Huey Johnson:    Joseph Sax, the kind of–the father of environmental law and a champion of environmental law, died in San Francisco recently.  We had a chance to interview him and it’s a good interview, and he made us all do some thinking about the Public Trust.  Have you reflections on that as an idea?

Edward Ueber:    Yes, I think the ocean has places now where it’s more than applicable.  The Public Trust Doctrine says that these properties, or waters, are put into the hands of the populous as a trust, not as an exploitable object to be destroyed.  The Public Trust in international waters becomes very difficult because different countries see it differently.  When we think of Public Trust, we think of public protection.  I think there are places where they think it as public exploration and exploitation, and that’s not what we need for the ocean.  We need a Public Trust where we want to put into perpetuity, a condition in the ocean that’ll be beneficial to the people who live on the earth.

Huey Johnson:    Is the U.N. up to dealing with that?

Edward Ueber:  They could be. And I think as global warming and acidification of the ocean occur, and warming–global warming, will depend on the warming of the ocean. Warmer oceans and acidification are going to change how people view this huge part of the earth.


Huey Johnson:    The evolution of human awareness is probably the key to survival.

Edward Ueber:    Education–in all fronts–education–and once you’re educated, civic involvement and thinking about the future.  We need to link the environment to learning in a way that people realize that the ocean has been a driving force in countries, in political stability, in exploitation of poor nations, and even today, most of the commerce in the world travels on the ocean, it doesn’t go by train or plane.  The education needs to be meaningful and connective.  It must tell the people why the ocean is important and how they’re connected to it.  The long term survival of civilization depends on a healthy ocean, producing what it does for free for everybody.


Huey Johnson:    What have been lessons you’ve learned in your career that you think might be of interest to others, particularly young people, in the future?

Edward Ueber:    There are experiences that you have, which may not seem connected; but always learn as much as you can.  Another thing is, don’t be disheartened when you fail.  Another thing I think is very important; never make enemies of people who disagree with you.  Learn why they disagree with you, and then say to them, “You know on this issue I can’t work with you because you’re going in a direction which I feel is terrible, but maybe we could work on some other things.”  Don’t give up on people because some people later on as they move in their own careers, they realize that what you were trying to change or do, they’re now able to accept.  But if you cut off communications with any group of people, you’ve cut off an opportunity to learn how to get them to change.

Edward Ueber:    One of the things I learned from Brian O’Neill, the former superintendent of Golden Gate National [Recreation Area] Park, is that if you have a project that others can be involved in, and you don’t involve them completely, then you’re making a big mistake because: one, you’re wasting government money because some of these other groups can help; and two, you’ve made them think they’re not part of the solution, where they are the solution.  And Brian also said, and he lived it, and I’ve tried to live it also, is when you work with other people, and maybe you put in 90% of the money and 95% of the time, when it comes to take a bow, you have them take the bow first, because their commitment may have been much more difficult than your commitment.