The waters off New England’s coast have always been a busy place, with a wide range of activities, from recreation to fishing to transportation. In recent decades, as aquaculture and wind power have entered the waters, and as climate and economic changes have unfolded, those who use and study the ocean find their pathways increasingly overlapping and at times in conflict. Further complicating coordination of activities are sometimes competing regulations set by local, state, and federal agencies.

The growing complexity of managing activity off New England’s coast led leaders of agencies and organizations to form the Northeast Regional Ocean Council in the early 2000s, which began to consider how better to accommodate myriad uses of the waterway. This effort was further strengthened when President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2010 requiring the nine coastal regions of the country to develop regional management plans. The Northeast Regional Planning Body was formally launched in 2012, and with the support of CBI, this multi-stakeholder group has been working together since then to develop a plan. In December 2016, the group’s Northeast Regional Ocean Plan was approved and certified by the National Ocean Council. The document is the first regional ocean plan in the country.

CBI worked closely with the Northeast Regional Planning Body to ensure that state agencies, tribes, and federal agencies developing the ocean plan included meaningful feedback from stakeholders. Pat Field and Ona Ferguson jointly led CBI’s outreach activities (with support from a significant number of CBI staff members), which focused on getting input on regional values and ideas on how to better incorporate ecosystem-based management into existing management and regulatory processes. CBI’s efforts included planning and running sessions for the public before every formal planning body meeting, conducting numerous engagement efforts with particular ocean sectors (ports, aquaculture, and energy), helping plan agency discussions on complex subjects such as how to align permit review procedures, and managing several rounds of listening sessions in all five New England states. CBI helped stakeholders wrestle with such questions as how to: accommodate new ocean wind energy development with fishing, navigation, and views of the ocean from coastal homes and beaches; build a stronger system of ports and shipping in the face of competition from other regions; coordinate and consider commercial fishing in the broader mix of ocean activities without stepping on the boundaries and authorities of fishermen as a unique and historic set of actors; and learn more about the little-known topic of recreation fishing and boating on a regional scale. 

The plan and related Northeast Ocean Data Portal (which contains the best current data on the region’s waters and uses) outline methods for both coordination among agencies and utilizing a single repository of relevant data in early decision making. The innovative data portal brings together diverse sources of data – across uses and species -- into spatial, integrated, regional maps. The planning process is an advancement, ensuring better coordination and early deliberation among numerous state and federal agencies. The Regional Planning Body will continue to meet and focus on implementing the plan, with ongoing support from stakeholders around the region and CBI.