By Dr. Sandra Whitehouse
Both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Plans have been released and are open for public comment
Back in May, Rip Cunningham wrote that the soon-to-be-released ocean plans for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are about ‘doing the best job possible of coordinating all the previously independent ocean development regulations [and giving] concerned citizens a process to make sure that they are recognized in the development process.’ Rip’s article called on the fishing community to have an open mind about the planning processes and to take the time to read and comment on them. Simply put, he asks people to give the plans a chance and to be active participants.
Now that both plans are released and open for public comment, let’s take a look at what’s in them.
The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic plans have the same basic framework. Using interactive maps and narrative text, they describe the region’s major ocean resources and uses, and lay out actions and commitments to consider and engage those users when decisions are being made that might affect them. For commercial and recreational fisheries, both plans contain a dedicated subchapter describing the industry and a series of maps developed in consultation with fisheries representatives that should help decision-makers understand current fishing uses and trends, the potential impacts proposed development projects would have on fishermen, and which agencies should be reaching out to when potential conflicts arise. Here are some more specifics on each of the two plans:
Northeast Regional Ocean Plan was released on May 25th and public comments are due on July 25th. Click here to read the plan or to submit a comment.
The Plan helps agencies better understand the fishing community by laying out:
- A narrative of the complexities regarding fisheries management and how fishing activities and areas interact with proposed development activities, as well as more routine activities like scientific studies, ship-based seafloor mapping projects, and dredging of port channels;
- The footprint of certain federally-managed fisheries, which is important for agencies to understand when they are considering proposed new activities that might affect fisheries;
- Links to all the fishing maps available on the Northeast Ocean Data Portal
Management agencies also commit to a series of actions to ensure fisheries are effectively considered and engaged in decisions that could affect them:
- Commitment from NMFS to maintain and update the plan’s maps and data on commercial fisheries over time;
- Commitment to use the information in the plan and data portal to inform regulatory and environmental reviews of agency actions for their potential impacts to commercial and recreational fisheries;
- Commitment to use the data portal to help identify and improve communication with commercial and recreational fishing stakeholders who are potentially affected by agency actions.
The Plan recognizes that there are significant gaps in our maps and data, especially for fisheries. It lays out a research agenda to help fill those gaps, including:
- Acknowledging that there is limited information on the spatial extent of recreational fishing activity, however pilot projects are ongoing;
- Improving the characterization of fishing activity in the region, including fisheries that are not in the Vessel Monitoring System like lobster, fisheries targeting pelagic species, and locally important fisheries;
- Improving our knowledge of the effects of changing fish species’ distribution and abundance on the spatial footprints of commercial fisheries.
Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan was released on July 5th and public comments are due September 6th. Click here to read the plan or to submit a comment.
The Plan describes agency commitments to a series of actions that ensure fisheries are effectively considered and engaged in projects that could affect them, including:
- Actions to enhance outreach to and communication with the fishing community, including commitments to use the data portal to inform offshore permit reviews and identify potentially affected fishermen early in the permitting process, and specific recommendations for future project developers to identify, engage and incorporate information from fishermen before filing permit applications;
- Improve the sharing of information and ideas between states, tribes, agencies, and the FMCs on fisheries science and management;
- Improve collaboration for the conservation of essential fish habitat.
The Plan helps agencies better understand the fishing community by laying out the available data on fishing, as well as a identifying key data gaps. Of particular interest are:
- Links to all the fishing maps available on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal
- Description of ‘Communities-at-Sea’, an interactive collection of maps that reflect commercial fishing effort linked with fishing ports and types.
As Rip Cunningham said, planning makes perfect sense. I recommend you read the plans and submit comments to the regions on how they can better represent the fishing community through this coordinated ocean planning process.