New England Fisheries

Utilizing the Ocean Plan in New England Fisheries Management

A high diversity coral community living together on a hard rock area. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts.

The Northeast Ocean Plan, a historic work product of President Obama’s National Ocean Policy, was finalized in December 2016. The backbone of that plan is the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, an online decision support tool that provides easy to access maps, data, and other information about the ocean and its resources. Federal agencies have committed to maintaining the data portal so that it will continually evolve as new data becomes available.

The fisheries management process is intended to be an open, transparent process. Many would argue, however, that the complexities behind the process make it generally inaccessible to the public. The Northeast Ocean Data Portal offers an opportunity to change that. Commercial fishing data, including data on catch and vessel traffic, have already available on the portal, but now the portal is being utilized during a fishery amendment development process.

The New England Fishery Management Council is developing the Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment, which is intended to protect deep-sea corals in New England waters from certain potentially harmful fishing gear. The proposed management areas included in the draft amendment are now available in the Data Explorer section of the portal.

This is a big step in democratic fishery management and, overall, decision-making about our vulnerable ocean resources. Fishermen and other invested stakeholders can now examine the proposed areas at their own convenience and work to better understand their interaction with coral sites and fishing activity. The Council is expected to select preferred alternatives for the coral amendment at its April meeting in Mystic, CT.

We’re at a crossroads in time to see the Northeast Ocean Plan successfully being implemented by New Englanders, and hopefully, the management process will only improve from here.


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