Planning for ocean use

Ocean planning activities have been going on in New England states for several years, but they got ratcheted up a notch when President Obama signed an Executive Order in July 2010 that established a National Ocean Policy that aims for better management of our nation’s oceans and coasts.

The executive order spawned the formation of the Northeast Regional Planning Body, comprising federal, state, tribal and New England Fishery Management Council representatives with stakeholder input. The planning body listed several objectives for its first meeting:

• Develop common understanding about the regional planning body’s assignment and characteristics, basic operational considerations and initial products;

• Provide context regarding current activities in New England that lay a foundation for regional ocean planning;

• Engage stakeholders and the public about regional ocean planning for New England; and

• Discuss the initial focus for the region’s ocean planning effort and identify the next steps to take.

Tuesday’s keynote speaker was John Bullard, NMFS’ northeast regional director. Bullard’s resume includes experience at the local, state and federal levels, as well as on Massachusetts’ ocean planning advisory commission.

Traditional uses, including commercial fishing, are going to be joined by new uses such as wind energy and aquaculture, Bullard said, noting that decisions are going to be more complicated because there are more uses.

“With more uses, more stakeholders, if we don’t do anything decisions will take longer,” he said, “and there will be more uses, more lawsuits, and more paralysis.”

Moreover, the ocean planning process will require open and transparent dialogue, he said, and all viewpoints must be represented at the board table.

“We are always going to have a big table,” Bullard said. “It’s frustrating, it takes time, it won’t be efficient, but that’s the way to do it. If you don’t have everyone at the table, it seems efficient at the beginning, but people that aren’t at the table will slow it down later.”

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