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The Nation’s First Ocean Plans

Today, the National Ocean Council is releasing the Nation’s first ocean plans—a historic collaboration among states, tribes, Federal agencies, and ocean stakeholders.

Today, the National Ocean Council (NOC) finalized the Nation’s first ocean plans, taking a historic step toward fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to healthy ocean ecosystems and a strong, sustainable marine economy. The two regional plans, the Northeast Ocean Plan and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan, promote the use of integrated ocean data and best practices for informed and efficient management of the Nation’s shared marine resources. This approach is designed to work across all levels of government and to advance economic, environmental, and cultural priorities within each region. In addition to years of historic collaboration among states, tribes, Federal agencies, and Fishery Management Councils, the Plans are a result of extensive participation and input from marine stakeholders representing fishing, recreation, energy, transportation, telecommunications, and many other interests.

In order to improve access to ocean information, both Plans build on a foundation of thousands of new maps that are publically accessible through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals. This extraordinary new generation of data products has been developed in consultation with scientists and marine industries to include a vast array of marine resources, including ecosystem information on 150 species of marine mammals, seabirds, and fish, and a wide range of information on human activities including fishing, recreation, shipping, and renewable energy. The Data Portals allow scientists, stakeholders, and the public to easily obtain and use information about the marine environment and engage in decision-making processes such as National Environmental Policy Act review by identifying who may be affected by proposed activities or where additional information is needed. The new data products developed for the Plans make the Data Portals an even more powerful tool for everyone with an interest in the ocean environment. 

In addition to making new data and information available, the Plans support efficient and responsive government by describing best management practices to guide effective interagency coordination, and ensuring that agencies use the data to inform planning and environmental review of new activities. The Plans also describe commitments by Federal agencies to support collaborative actions that address key local, state, and regional management. For example, in the Northeast, Federal agencies will use the Plan to inform dredging and Federal navigation projects, develop additional regional maps and data of commercial and recreational fisheries, and improve outreach to industry and stakeholders related to renewable-energy development. In the Mid-Atlantic, Federal agencies will use the Plan to improve consultations and communication with Tribes in the region, support aquaculture siting and permitting, and engage fishing communities in planning and environmental review of offshore sand-mining.

The Plans also will support healthy ocean ecosystems by describing and initiating a process to identify ecologically significant areas. Using information on marine ecosystems and human activities from the Data Portals as a starting point, and incorporating knowledge and expertise from a variety of stakeholders and scientific experts, the Regional Planning Bodies will add increasingly sophisticated information on marine-ecosystem function to their databases. This information, in turn, will help inform future planning and management activities.

Today’s action marks a significant milestone for ocean stewardship and we have an opportunity to build on this progress as the Pacific Islands, West Coast, and Caribbean regional planning bodies develop plans of their own. As the Plans are implemented, they will pave the way for the Nation to more effectively advance economic and conservation goals through sound ocean management.

President Obama established the National Ocean Policy in 2010 by Executive Order, which created a National Ocean Council consisting of 27 Federal agencies and departments, providing a venue for agencies to work together cooperatively, share information, and streamline decision-making about the ocean. The Executive Order called on the National Ocean Council to collaborate with stakeholders on developing these plans. 

Christy Goldfuss and John P. Holdren serve as Co-Chairs of the National Ocean Council.

Click here to read the Northeast Ocean Plan.
Click here to read the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan. 
Click here to read the Marine Planning Handbook.
Click here to read more about regional marine planning.