New Englanders Begin to Plan Their Ocean Future

While many of us busily prepped for our Thanksgiving feast last week, New England policymakers had another task in their sight—kicking off a brighter, healthier future for our oceans.

As Americans, we like to imagine a vast ocean space with a limitless horizon, full of endless schools of fish, thriving corals, and resources that we can always count on. The truth is harder to swallow. Just as on land, our waters are getting increasingly crowded, as we demand more and more from our oceans. From new forms of energy to increased shipping, fishing, and tourism, our needs keep growing, while our oceans—and the vulnerable creatures they contain—struggle to keep up. In order to ensure our ocean resources are healthy now and for generations to come, our only choice is to get smarter about how we use them.

That means moving away from our current system, where decisions about resource use are made on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis. Finally, under our first-ever National Ocean Policy, policymakers are beginning to look broadly at what areas in the sea are appropriate for industrial use and which areas of ocean habitat and wildlife need protection. Smart ocean planning gives us a guide for development, providing industry with more certainty and avoiding delays, reducing redundant efforts, and providing greater clarity about the permitting process. We know our demands on the ocean will only increase, and smart planning gives us a way to fulfill our needs without bankrupting precious ocean ecosystems.

The National Ocean Policy calls for states, tribes, and the federal government to work together to develop smart regional ocean plans to guide the future of sustainable development. And last week, New England became the first region out of the gate.

The Northeast Regional Planning Body (Northeast RPB) – made up of state representatives, a host of tribal partners, a regional fisheries council representative, and federal ocean policy leads – came together to address the region’s ocean opportunities and challenges. The Northeast RPB is now developing their charter, and a discussion draft of the ocean issues and objectives they intend to address. Their next face-to-face meeting is planned for March.

At NRDC, we see this as an opportunity for the public to shape a healthy future for ocean resources off the Northeast, including tapping into the clean, renewable energy blowing off our shores. The Northeast RPB can help ensure offshore wind energy is properly sited, and developed in a way that minimizes harm to ocean wildlife or existing industries like fishing and recreation. This is a major step in bringing the National Ocean Policy to life, and setting the stage for similar planning efforts across the country.

It’s critical that the Northeast RPB identify upfront that their final plan will protect, maintain, and restore the health of New England’s ocean and coastal ecosystems, both for the health of ocean life and for our own economic growth. Our oceans generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year, making their protection even more important in these hard economic times. Only a healthy marine ecosystem can provide the food, jobs, and recreation that we want and need. In 2009 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation supported more than 1.8 million jobs, and contributed more than $61 billion to the nation’s GDP.

The Northeast RPB’s plan should be based on the best available science and, in order to be effective in the long-term, should include the input of surfers, fishermen, small business owners, conservationists, and others—all the members of the public who enjoy and use our oceans. We need everyone at the table, engaged early and often throughout the planning process.

NRDC is looking forward to engaging with the new RPB members in New England, and in the other regions that are starting to form these bodies, to help shape our ocean future.

For more information on smart ocean planning, watch this short NRDC video:


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