Our team at Ocean Conservancy is twenty-five nautical miles off the coast when Captain Monty Hawkins anchors the Morning Sun and we drop our fishing lines. We are lucky enough to be fishing for sea bass, easily one of the tastiest fish in the mid-Atlantic. Captain Monty specializes in precision fishing of natural, shipwreck and artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. Once we get a primer from him on the ins and outs of catch limits and size requirements, we are off and fishing.
It is easy to see the lure of this magnificent body of water. Looking out onto the vast ocean, a sea turtle swims past the boat. On our way back to land, we are accompanied by dolphins and watch in awe as they surface in splashing trails nearby. What isn’t visible to the naked eye is that these ocean waters are a major economic driver for the region, sustaining a robust seafood industry, recreational fishing and tourism activities. The economic success of the region relies heavily on the ecological health of its ocean and coast, along with responsible planning for uses like commercial and recreational fishing, offshore energy, and more.
Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by a myriad of government agencies, often with little communication among them. This hurts both Ocean Conservancy’s and ocean industries’ ability to manage ocean use on a science-based and sustainable basis. Current and emerging ocean businesses often go through time-consuming, expensive and frustrating permitting processes by multiple levels of government. Without better data, coordination, and smart planning for sustainable use, growing ocean development can lead to conflicts and confusion. These issues threaten the food, jobs and recreation we rely on from our ocean.
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As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, we are all reminded of the importance of being prepared. This is true for our ocean as well, and the Mid-Atlantic region is moving forward with marine planning efforts to do just that. The first meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body is taking place this week, on Sept. 24-25 at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
During this inaugural meeting, “marine planning” is a phrase that’s likely to come up often. Marine planning creates a blueprint for our ocean and shorelines that provides a comprehensive picture of marine uses and activities within a region. With an ever-increasing amount of ocean users looking for places to operate, coastal communities are seeing their most precious resource threatened by ocean sprawl.
This meeting will serve as an opportunity for citizens including wind developers, fishermen, recreational boaters and conservationists to join state, federal and tribal officials from across the region to start discussing the creation of a plan for the ocean and coasts in the region that encompasses a five state area, from New York to Virginia.
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At a given time, our air is filled with thousands of planes intersecting each other’s flight paths in a coordinated fashion. The same is true for our ocean and its industries – and a new map shows just that. The New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN), a group of organizations supportive of ocean planning, created the map to illustrate just how many different activities occur in the ocean – ferry routes, shipping lanes, sanctuary boundaries, fishing grounds, whale habitat and proposed wind energy areas, to name a few. Imagine trying to coordinate these uses so that they don’t all end up on top of each other or harm to the ecosystem on which they depend.
This coordination is one of the goals of the National Ocean Policy. Each of nine regions around the country will establish a Regional Planning Body (RPB), comprised of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribal members and the regional fishery management council. These regional groups will be guided by local stakeholders and the public and will work to create a plan to guide the various uses of the oceans for its member states. The New England RPB will be holding its first meeting next week – the first official meeting of any around the country – to begin the creation of a plan for its coasts and oceans.
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