Though one goal of the ocean planning effort may be to have the debate over fish or power up-front this time (as opposed to how it played out with hydroelectric dams), the precedent-setting agreements forged in Oregon between the feds, the state, one company, and the myriad interest groups are merely step one. Wave energy comes on the heels of five years of contentious debate over creating marine reserves. At a July 19 meeting of the Ocean Policy Advisory Council in Salem, the frayed nerves of those involved in the planning process so far were on view. “So much is going on so quickly that my coastal residents are tired, frightened, and mad,” said Betsy Johnson, a Democrat from Scappoose and one of nine state senators who form the Coastal Caucus. (Her district includes Clatsop and Tillamook counties on the north coast.)

Husing uses the phrase “coastal fatigue” to describe the burnout concerned participants increasingly feel. Some put it more bluntly. “I represent coastal people, and I don’t even want to go to another meeting,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson, half-jokingly—and the real work won’t begin until Ecotrust hands over maps based on the data this fall.

‘Like the bottle bill or public beach access, this is one of Oregon’s pivotal contributions to public law.’ —Astrid, Scholz, Ecotrust

Attendees also received the expected news that the level of planning will only get more intense in months to come: on the same morning of that July meeting, the Obama administration unveiled the new National Ocean Council to jump-start efforts to develop marine spatial plans in the waters entirely controlled by the federal government, which start three nautical miles offshore.

Restless and vocal, Thompson showed his agitation. “Anytime I see the word ‘coordinate’ used in federal documents,” he churned, “I know it means, ‘Give us your information so we can tell you how to run the ocean.’”

Yet, as uneasy as fishers are, most are invested in the process—happier to have a front-row seat rather than trying to catch a glimpse from the outside. As Husing points out, fishermen spend the most time on the water. Now they have a way to share valuable information policy makers need.

Walking along the dock of the Newport fleet, Bob Eder furrows his brow as he shares his hopes and concerns. The biggest fear among him and his colleagues is that the data they are handing over could, one day, open the door to other industrial uses—for instance, to commercial-scale aquaculture or undersea mining—or that it could be used to further restrict fishing.

If only all extractive industries could be as sustainable as Oregon’s crab fishery has become, laments Eder. That’s one reason he is cautiously optimistic that, if the planning process is deliberate and maintains respect for biological resources, wave energy could be a sustainable ocean use. “One of the reasons fishing has survived,” he says as he looks out over the dozens of family-owned boats docked nearby, “is because we don’t own the space—the public owns it.”

(Oregon, according to Ocean Power Technologies’ Robert Lurie, enjoys the best conditions for wave energy generation of any place in the continental United States: Our coast’s waves are tall, frequent, and consistent. Transmission lines run along the entire coast. And no significant physical barriers (like major mountain ranges) stand between the buoys and the largest population centers. OPT’s first buoy, manufactured by Oregon Iron Works, will be deployed this spring. If it works as planned, its peak generation will be 150 kilowatts.)