Solutions and Innovations

Happy First Anniversary to the Northeast Ocean Plan!

Image of Stonington Harbor, Maine.

One year ago today, the National Ocean Council officially certified the Northeast Ocean Plan. If you haven’t heard of the Northeast Ocean Plan, it is a landmark document changing how we look at the ocean – for the better. With it, the New England region has committed on every level to be smarter about how we collectively use, manage, and protect our ocean resources, including our fisheries and fishing communities.

With the additional impacts of climate change – the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than nearly all of the world’s ocean – smart, well-informed management of our increasingly industrialized ocean is of utmost importance. For an example, you can watch this short video about how regional ocean plans help further new economic opportunities in aquaculture.

A key component of the Northeast Ocean Plan is the Northeast Ocean Data Portal. The portal serves as an incredible source for the best available data in one central location for decision-makers, ocean users, and stakeholders to use to inform decision-making. Information pertaining to commercial fishing on the portal includes key commercial fish species (including the iconic but struggling Atlantic cod), commercial fishing vessel activity, essential fish habitat, aquaculture sites, and more. This data can be used by fishery managers, government agencies, environmental groups, and fishermen themselves to improve the health of our ocean, fisheries, and coastal communities.

Most importantly the portal team is committed to maintaining and updating the available data, as well filling in potential data gaps, in order to make the portal the best resource it can be. For example, some stakeholders have pointed out that the portal only displays maps of fall trawl surveys for commercially managed fish species. As the portal team works to improve the data portal, this is exactly the kind of engagement that needs to occur; the portal team needs to hear from stakeholders about their priorities and how use of the data can be optimized. That is what regional ocean planning is about.

If you’re not yet convinced that this is something to celebrate, also on the data portal, are case studies of how the plan and its information have been successfully used in management decisions. One of these case studies is the example mentioned above of how the data portal facilitated the first shellfish farm in Atlantic federal waters. Another is how the New England Fishery Management Council used the data portal to make proposed management maps publicly available for its draft Deep-Sea Coral Amendment. You can read more about that work here.

It’s been a big first year for the Northeast Ocean Plan, and there is always more work to be done ahead. But at this time, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the success that our region has achieved. To learn more about the Northeast Ocean Plan, you can read a blog by Conservation Law Foundation or explore neoceanplanning.org.


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