New England says, National Ocean Policy plans should be ‘plans to act’

On Monday, June 27 in Exeter, NH the National Ocean Council (NOC) held a regional listening session to solicit feedback regarding the nine priority objectives of the developing National Ocean Policy (NOP), along with the outlines of the related strategic action plans. For more information on these SAPs click here. Read more…

The National Ocean Policy represents the US’s first truly comprehensive and integrated effort to protect and sustainably manage America’s coastal waters, bays, estuaries and oceans.

Opening remarks were given by several representatives of the council. Sally Yozell, Director of the Policy at NOAA and Co-Chair of the NOC Resource Management Interagency Policy Committee emphasized the importance of “bottom-up decision making” indicating that most good ideas come from the regional level. In addition, she noted that the Northeast is a leader in terms of US regional ocean governance.

Steve Crawford, Environmental Director of Passamaquoddy Tribe of Pleasant Point, Maine and Member of the NOC Governance Coordinating Committee emphasized the important  role of the tribes in this decision-making process.

Kathleen Leyden, Director of the Maine Coastal Program and Member of the NOC Governance Coordinating Committee, hopes the NOP will protect states’ rights, and pointed out that implementation of the policy need to include measurable results, as well as overarching policy.  She also emphasized the importance of predictability: we must be able to give answers and predictions to our fishermen and other stakeholders.

Next, several regional representatives spoke on a range of topics, including the importance of restoring and maintaining the diversity of benefits provided by coasts and oceans, the role of offshore energy development in climate change preparedness, and how ocean observing systems are integral to achieving the NOP objectives.

Finally, members of the public were given the opportunity to comment.  A number of topics were addressed, including that the idea of “maintaining a healthy ocean” should be explicitly linked with local economies, and that ecosystem-based management (EBM) itself needs to be very specifically defined. In terms of implementation of newer management frameworks and strategies like coastal and marine spatial planning, one person noted that early successes (perhaps from the Northeast) will be necessary to inspire confidence in this approach nationally.

Many people were concerned that the deadline of 2020 (used in a number of SAP goals) is too far away and that significant action must and can be taken in a number of arenas before then, especially in the Northeast.  In addition, a number of individuals were concerned about the small role that fisheries and fishermen currently play in the NOC. The council should be working directly with fishermen as they are one of the prime stakeholders.

And finally, there was clamor for recognition and pilot projects in the Gulf of Maine in addition to the efforts going on in other areas around the nation.

A concern that came up repeatedly was that these plans should be “plans to act” rather than “plans to plan”. The SAPs describe a lot of process and not very many action-oriented details such as timelines, milestones and other measures of progress.  Broader engagement of people and institutions with a stake in healthy oceans will be necessary in the near future.

Ms. Stephanie Moura, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership (MOP), urged the Council  to “keep things simple” bearing in mind that what is needed is not more process, but good process that allows us to take action.

The next versions of the strategic action plans will be released later in the summer, and another listening session will be held in the fall in Connecticut. Consider attending and making your voice heard!

Bridgette Black is a Brown University senior with interests in aquatic ecosystems, climate change, and international environmental policy.