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A Voice for Our Ocean

Nation’s First Regional Ocean Plan Released in the Northeast

BOSTON, May 25, 2016 – Leading the nation, New Englanders today issued a draft Northeast Ocean Plan, an historic, new approach to shaping management decisions regarding ocean resources in the region.

The Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB), formed of representatives from the six New England states, federally recognized tribes, federal agencies and the New England Fishery Management Council, led the four-year, ocean planning process with input from thousands of marine stakeholders and produced the draft plan. The plan is now open for a 60-day public comment period through July 25.

To access the plan, offer comments and for more information: 

Northeast Regional Planning Body and data portal

“Keep the Ocean Working”

Under the new plan, state and federal agencies have committed to using better data and working with local stakeholders such as fishermen, offshore wind developers, maritime interests, educators, tourism businesses and recreational organizations on planning and permitting projects that could impact important fisheries, habitats, cultural sites and commercial enterprises in New England.

“In the past, the onus was on you, the ocean user, to make sure that federal and state agencies knew about you — to put yourself in the room,” said Anne Merwin, director of ocean planning at Ocean Conservancy. “Ocean planning inverts that. Thanks to the plan’s unique, stakeholder-driven data and agency commitments to early stakeholder engagement the responsibility is now on the agency to make sure that what they’re doing has the least amount of impact to the interests and livelihoods of ocean users. This is a huge benefit for people like fishermen, small tourism business owners and others, who need to be out on the water, or in their shops, not tracking down the latest ocean development proposals.”

This ‘bottom-up approach’ is now possible because of the development of unique information about how and where stakeholders operate along the ocean landscape for inclusion in the regional ocean plan and the publicly available web portal, the Northeast Ocean Data Portal.

The ocean planning process also revealed serious gaps in knowledge, including about how and where lobster fishermen operate along the massive New England coastline.  This gap exists despite the fact that we know lobster fisheries are central to the economic health of coastal communities, and that these fisheries are at risk due to development and habitat changes.

“The Northeast plan provides a refreshing understanding of diverse ocean uses from an integrated point of view—that is the intertwined human, commercial and natural ecosystem upon which we all depend,” said Merwin. “And remember, the plan is a living document that will mature as new data becomes available and needs change.”

“The federal agencies are committed, from the region up to headquarters, to keeping this ocean information fresh and using it in our everyday work,” said Betsy Nicholson, north regional director, NOAA Office for Coastal Management in Gloucester, Mass. “This is really about good government and a much more transparent and holistic way of making decisions about our New England ocean. That’s everybody’s business.”

The plan incorporates data on uses from coastlines to open ocean and aims to improve decision-making in federal waters (3 to 200 miles out, the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone).

Formed in 2012, the Northeast RPB includes representatives from all six New England states, 10 federally recognized tribes, 10 federal agencies, and the New England Fishery Management Council. The RPB is a voluntary organization charged with creating a plan and overseeing its implementation with many opportunities for public participation and has no regulatory authority.

In 2010, Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) were authorized as part of the National Ocean Policy, a framework based on the bipartisan recommendations of the U.S. Ocean Commission and established by a presidential executive order to better manage the nation’s oceans and coastal resources. The Northeast voluntarily formed the RPB, which met with and solicited input from local stakeholders to devise regional ocean plans that take into account all marine interests to make better-informed decisions, while avoiding conflicts.

“I’m a firm believer that fishermen need a chance to tell their story,” said fisherman and charter boat captain Rick Bellavance of North Kingstown, R.I. “Ocean planning gives us a chance to do that. I can say throughout my engagement with the planning process, with the RPB, in conversations with decision-makers, and through the data collection process that at the end of the day, everybody who is involved in the process has become more aware of what each other does. This results in better decision-making in the end.”

The public comment deadline is July 25, 2016. Comments may be submitted on each chapter electronically at each chapter landing page, in-person at any of the upcoming public comment meetings, through the comment form listed on the NE RPB website, or by submitting written comments to:

Betsy Nicholson, NE RPB Federal Co-lead

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office

55 Great Republic Drive

Gloucester, MA 01930-2276

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Select Northeast Marine Economic Facts:

  • Total U.S. commercial fishing landings were at 9.5 billion pounds valued at $5.4 billion in 2014. In Massachusetts alone fishermen contribute nearly 275 million pounds and $525 million in commercial landings. The American lobster is the single-most valuable species landed in the United States, and as of 2014 statistics, the U.S. catch was valued at $566 million in 2014 with Maine fishermen landing $450 million. Further, lobster is so important to Maine that in some communities the fishery represents 90 percent of the local economy.
  • Shellfish aquaculture is more widespread than finfish aquaculture in New England, including oyster, scallop, mussel and clam. With more than 1,500 leases from Maine to Connecticut, New England produces nearly $50 million per year in dockside value. In Rhode Island, there are 43 aquaculture leases totaling 160 acres, producing 4.1 million oysters, 58,400 hard clams and 3,000 pounds of mussels (2011). The industry produced $3 million worth of product, with $2.5 million going to consumption and $500,000 to restoration purposes.
  • The Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm is the first wind farm in the United States with major construction activities conducted by local, skilled workers performing critical assembly and fabrication elements. This project alone is expected to create 300 construction jobs locally. As the supply chain develops, the estimated nationwide employment impacts for domestic manufacturing of major components for the U.S. offshore wind market could range from 2,000 full-time jobs to almost 14,000 by 2030.
  • The Port of New Bedford contributes to the City of New Bedford, supporting more than 2,500 direct port-related jobs and more than 2,200 employees indirectly. The highest valued fishing port in the United States, it is an economic engine.
  • Among all U.S. transatlantic ports, the deepwater port of Portland is the closest to Europe. In 2014, the total value of exports through the Port of Portland was approximately $227 million, an increase of 19 percent compared to $76.5 million in 2013. Increases that are even more significant appear over the five-year period 2010-14, when exports increased by 349 percent. From 2013 to 2014, the total value of imports through national benchmark ports increased 13 percent over the same period, while imports through the Portland Jetport grew by 35 percent.
  • The Marine Transportation System contributes over $5 billion to the U.S. economy, providing over 35,000 jobs. In New Hampshire, the maritime transportation industry as a whole contributes over $1 billion to the U.S. economy, providing 5,990 jobs. In Connecticut, the commercial transportation industry alone contributes nearly $800 million to the U.S. GDP.
  •  Recreational saltwater fisheries are an important component of the Northeast identity. Annually, millions of recreational fishing trips take place throughout the region. Recreational fishing contributes $1.3 billion across New England each year from for-hire vessels to private vessels. Nearly 1.6 million passengers fished aboard for-hire recreational fishing vessels during 2011 in the Northeast.
  • In 2012, recreational boating in the Northeast saw approximately 907,000 trips generating nearly $3.5 billion in the regional economy and supporting the equivalent of about 27,000 year-round jobs.
  • Combined, residents and visitors to the Northeast spend roughly the equivalent of 100 million days at more than 1,000 beaches, adding a total of $10 billion to the regional economy. Healthy ocean ecosystems contribute to these economic benefits, but also ensure fishing, marine mammals and sea turtle populations are maintained.

Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit www.oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.