Nation's first regional ocean plan discussed in PortsmouthBy KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
June 27. 2016 11:39PM
PORTSMOUTH — State and federal officials joined members of the public in a roundtable conversation Monday night to discuss a draft of the nation’s first regional ocean plan.
The Northeast Ocean Plan is significant because there are numerous federal agencies with jurisdiction over the Atlantic Ocean, and prior to its development, there had never been a good way for them to communicate with each other and those who live and work on the water, according to Portsmouth native John Williamson, a former commercial fisherman.
Today, Williamson lives in Kennebunk, Maine, and works in ocean management. He said the ocean is becoming a busier place, as vessel traffic increases, and people look to develop ways to harness wind power, as well as get the oil and gas that is available offshore, making it crucial to track usage data to coordinate and protect valuable natural resources.
“This plan is an opportunity for fishermen to have a voice,” Williamson said. “Healthy fisheries are dependent on healthy marine ecosystems and this document will help guide agencies responsible for regulation and permitting of coastal development, ship traffic and other commercial activity.”
The centerpiece of the plan is a Northeast Ocean Data Portal, that takes into account the needs of human activities and marine life. There are interactive maps for marine transportation, energy, infrastructure, commercial fishing and tourism-driven industries based on cultural and recreational opportunities. Federal agents have agreed to use these portals when making future policy decisions.
Betsy Nicholson, a regional director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Ocean Management, explained that the plan does not create any new laws or regulations. Nicholson said the maps are available online to make it easy for federal agency workers to see who is operating various types of activities along the eastern seacoast when they make their decisions.
“It flags who needs to be involved in the conversation,” Nicholson said. “Everyone is agreeing to go to the portal first, to see who needs to be involved in the process.”
The three main goals of the plan are to keep the Atlantic Ocean and coastal ecosystems healthy, to create a more effective decision-making process for federal agents and to increase compatibility between competing interests, Nicholson said.
Members of the public who were at the meeting had concerns that the plan is redundant, and that federal agencies will not take their comments and opinions into account before the final document is published.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will take public comments on the plan until July 25. For more information, visit www.neoceanplanning.org.