This summer New England took another big step toward regional ocean planning as the newly minted Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB) held 10 public meetings to get feedback on set of goals they have drafted. See our previous blogs for a discussion of the draft goals and how the planning process in New England is developing.
The public meetings took place from Maine to Connecticut and were attended by RPB representatives and hundreds of fishermen, members of conservation groups, offshore renewable energy developers, and others. Generally, each meeting began with short talk on what regional ocean planning is, then an overview of any ocean planning activities that were already taking place in a given state (for example, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan and Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan). After that, several maps were presented to introduce the types of data that are being collected and used to inform ocean planning – shipping lanes, fishing data, and offshore energy siting among them. The public was then invited to walk around, look at the maps, and make comments or ask questions about them. This was followed by a guided public comment period on each of the goals.
The goals fall into three broad categories:
Effective Decision Making
Healthy Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems
Compatibility Among Past, Current, and Future Ocean Uses
Several themes emerged throughout the meetings as people commented on each of the goals:
- Cautious support of regional ocean planning. There seems to be broad support for the concept and recognition that better coordination is needed, but people are unsure of how ocean planning will change the way management decisions are currently made.
- Concerns about maps and data. Maps are static and do not represent the dynamic nature of the ocean. Maps need incorporate historical data as well as projected future uses to effectively guide decision making. Data gaps need to be acknowledged, clearly communicated, and factored into decision-making. Robust data must be used, and the local scientific community should be involved.
- Questions about scale and scope. Regional efforts should include municipalities early in the planning processes – especially communities that are dependent on the ocean. Planning areas need to be clearly defined. Watershed-level planning and acknowledgement of the importance of estuaries to ocean health need to be incorporated. Ecosystem based management and social and economic factors should also be part of the planning.
- Concerns from fishermen. Will regional ocean planning facilitate more new uses of the ocean at the expense of productive fishing grounds? Also, fishing is already highly regulated, will this process lead to more bureaucracy for fishermen to navigate?
- Importance of meaningful stakeholder engagement. Not all industry and stakeholders groups were well represented at the public meetings. In order to ensure that all ocean and coastal user groups are aware of the process and have opportunities for full engagement, the RPB and various agencies need to put their full effort into outreach.
- Compatibility of uses should be expanded to include cumulative impact. The advances in data, user patterns and scientific information give us the benefit of being able to better understand the effects of ocean uses on ecosystems, habitats, and species, as well as the interplay among uses.
In response to many requests for more time, the comment period for the draft goals has been extended to July 26th. You can submit comments via standard mail, email, or online.
What’s next for ocean planning in New England?
According to Betsy Nicholson, the RPB Federal Co-Lead, “The RPB will spend the summer reviewing results from the public meetings and other public comments received to help revise and refine the draft goals document, and develop a draft work plan specifying necessary steps to accomplish our work. These two important aspects of this regional ocean planning effort—revised goals and the draft work plan—will be discussed at the next Regional Planning Body meeting to be schedule for this fall, and will be available prior to that meeting.”
The location and date of the next RPB meeting have not yet been announced, but given the progress that has been made by the RPB so far, there is reason to be optimistic that much will be accomplished.
Note: This was originally published on OpenChannels.org on July 8th, 2013. http://bit.ly/150xLCe