A regional planning group issued a sweeping ecosystem-based ocean draft plan Wednesday to guide federal agencies in New England.

The draft Northeast Ocean Plan has no regulatory power, but since it was developed by a group created by presidential order in 2010, the reams of science behind the plan will guide the federal agencies that help manage the coastline and oceans of New England, according to Betsy Nicholson, a member of the regional group that wrote the plan and regional director for coastal management for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The science is drawn from hundreds of data sources, and often packaged into easy-to-use interactive maps to understand the cumulative effect of disparate industries, such as looking at how marine mammal habitat intersects with regional shipping lanes or the location of marine industry job clusters or beach renourishment projects. Most of the data had existed before the plan’s release, Nicholson said, but not in one place, and not in such an easy to understand and use format.

“This is a huge benefit for people like fishermen, small tourism business owners and others,” said Anne Merwin, director of ocean planning at Ocean Conservancy. They “need to be out on the water, or in their shops, not tracking down the latest ocean development proposals.”

This is the first regional ocean plan to come out of President Obama’s executive order. The Mid-Altantic region is slated to release its draft plan next, in early summer.

The plan calls for the agencies to use the data, which the regional group is making available to the public through an online data portal, and work together with the state, tribal, and local governments in the six-state region. The planning group, which worked on the draft for four years, is made up of members from nine federal agencies, ranging from the Navy to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the six New England states, regional tribes, and advisory members from New York and Canada.


The plan also points out surprising gaps in data, such as how and where lobstermen fish along the sprawling New England coast, even though the fishery is central to the economic health of coastline communities and New England states, especially in Maine, and subject to the impact of development and climate change. Nick Battista, the marine programs director at Island Institute in Rockland, said lobstermen should be involved in decisions that could impact their coast.

“The lobster fishery is the economic backbone of many coastal Maine communities,” Battista said. “Without this fishery, many of these communities might disappear.”

The data portal is available to the public at www.northeastoceandata.org.

The group invites public comment on its website, at neoceanplanning.org/plan, through July 25, and will hold hearings across New England in June and July, including three in Maine. The first Maine hearing is in Rockland on June 6 at 5 p.m. at Rockland Public Library; the second is in Ellsworth on June 20 at 5 p.m. at Ellsworth Public Library; and in Portland on June 30 at 5 p.m., although no location has yet been identified.


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