New England Is Leading the Way in Regional Ocean Planning

Last week, the National Ocean Council released its final ocean action plan—a to-do list for our federal agencies to work together to address some of our oceans' biggest threats. From ocean acidification to pollution and habitat destruction, our oceans are already suffering, and we need coordinated action to ensure a healthy, productive future for our ocean resources. The ocean action plan calls on agencies to, among other things, share data on our ocean resources online for all to use, and to commit resources to regional planning efforts like those taking place in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

It’s exciting to see the work being accomplished on the ground in these regions. Both regions are just starting – in fact, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body was only officially announced in early April – but already there’s much we can learn from our New England neighbors.

Right before Thanksgiving last year, the Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB) – made up of state representatives, a host of tribal partners, a regional fisheries council representative, and federal ocean policy leads – held their inaugural meeting to discuss how best to address the region’s ocean opportunities and challenges together. The RPB just held their second official meeting and they are off to an enviable start.

Between meetings, the planning body members met within their governmental sector (federal, state, or tribal) to develop ocean planning goals. These goals, which were amended based on public feedback, include:

  • Helping to protect, maintain, and restore a healthy coastal and ocean ecosystem;
  • Promoting compatibility among current and future ocean uses (like shipping, fishing, and offshore renewable energy development); and
  • Making the region’s ocean decision-making more effective and efficient.

Everyone in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut will have a chance to review the revised goals and comment on them at public forums that are being scheduled for this May and June. The planning body also proposed a three-year planning timeframe and discussed a draft charter to define everyone’s roles in the planning process.

And while New England is clearly moving forward, much remains to be done to ensure the public has a role in ocean planning. New England’s jobs and its regional identity rely on clean coastal waters and beaches, as well as healthy and abundant fish and wildlife. Ocean resources support more than 200,000 jobs in New England, with the tourism and recreation sector representing more than 70 percent of these. In 2011, nearly 1.3 million recreational fishermen took 6.1 million fishing trips in New England.

In order for the eventual ocean plan to reflect people’s values and be viable over the long-term, the Northeast Regional Planning Body needs to go beyond the first steps of simply making materials and meetings open to the public, and take immediate action to establish a public advisory committee to provide regular input and advice.

Ocean planning is moving forward, as government agencies and other stakeholders come together to outline goals and responsibilities. With the Northeast leading the way, we look forward to following suit in the Mid-Atlantic to ensure our ocean resources are kept healthy and productive for generations to come.

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