Massachusetts Passes Oceans Act

Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ 2300 kilometers of coastline and its 650 000 hectares of subtidal lands are an integral part of the Gulf of Maine — one of the most biologically productive marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is delineated by Cape Cod at the eastern tip of Massachusetts in the southwest and Cape Sable at the southern tip of Nova Scotia in the northeast. It includes the entire coastlines of the U.S. states of New Hampshire and Maine, as well as Massachusetts north of Cape Cod, and the southern and western coastlines of the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia respectively.

For centuries, the Atlantic waters of the Gulf of Maine have been used for fishing, recreation and navigation. In recent years, proposals for other uses, from gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities to desalinization projects and wind and wave energy projects have dramatically increased. These new proposals raise concerns about how to manage marine resources amidst diverse proposals and intensified development pressures. Historically, decisions about how to manage ocean resources have been handled on a resource by resource, case by case, reactive basis. However, this approach is inadequate to face the complexity of the proposals and challenges facing Atlantic waters in the 21st century. The Massachusetts Oceans Act, a comprehensive and holistic approach to ocean management and resource protection, will coordinate and monitor all ocean-related activity. The Oceans Act of 2008, signed into law by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on May 28, 2008, is the first of its kind in the United States.

The culmination of the Oceans Act will be the Ocean Management Plan. The Plan will regulate many uses of the Massachusetts coastal waters—everything from wind farms to whale watching to cruise ships to the cod fishery. Specifically, it will:

  • Give the Secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs the oversight, coordination and planning authority over ocean resources.

  • Decisions would be based on an ocean management plan created by a broad-based, 19-member ocean management advisory board comprised of state agency representative, state legislators, a municipal official and environmental, fishing and marine industry stakeholders.

  • The ocean resources management plan will be required to be based on the best available scientific understanding of marine and ocean resources. A 9-member ocean science advisory council will assist the Secretary in gathering and analyzing the best available science.

  • All programs and permits for activities in ocean waters will be required to conform to the ocean management plan.

  • Notably, commercial fishing will still be regulated by the Division of Marine Fisheries and will not be under the direct control of the Ocean Management Plan.

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