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Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan Overview

Find a brief summary of the ocean plan to support the current review and update process.

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan promotes sustainable uses of state ocean waters and protects critical marine habitat and important water-dependent uses by setting siting and management standards for new ocean-based projects. In response to the Oceans Act of 2008, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) issued the original ocean plan in December 2009. The Oceans Act requires EEA to review the ocean plan at least once every five years. The first review of the ocean plan (PDF, 3 MB) was conducted in 2013-2014, and the first formal ocean plan amendment was promulgated in January 2015. The review of the 2015 ocean plan was completed in December 2020, beginning another formal amendment process that will be completed in 2021. This summary document provides an overview of the ocean plan—organized around key ocean plan elements and review requirements—to support the current ocean plan review and update process.

Management Framework

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan establishes the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary as a “prohibited area” where a variety of uses, activities, and facilities (e.g., those associated with the generation of electricity) are prohibited. The remainder (and vast majority) of the ocean planning area (PDF, 5 MB) is designated as multi-use—which allows most water-dependent uses, activities, and facilities in accordance with ocean plan standards, but directs new development away from special, sensitive, or unique (SSU) habitats and areas of concentrated water-dependent use (WDU). The ocean plan identifies and maps the protected areas to avoid (e.g., critical habitat for whales, sea birds, fish resources, and benthic habitat, as well as high value fishing and important navigation and recreation areas) and establishes performance standards to minimize impacts of ocean development. On behalf of EEA, the Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) is responsible for the administration, implementation, and oversight of the ocean plan.

Plan Administration

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan is implemented within the existing Massachusetts regulatory structure, with an interagency team coordinating review. The team consists of representatives from the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) Office, CZM, Department of Fish and Game, and Department of Environmental Protection. Pre-application consultation with this team is strongly encouraged to determine the type and level of review required and to provide technical and other substantive feedback to project proponents. If MEPA review is required for the project, an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) must be submitted that documents: 1) whether the project is subject to the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan based on established criteria and 2) any potential impacts to SSU habitats or concentrations of WDU. Project proponents can use the mapped SSUs and WDUs found on the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS) to help site their projects to minimize impacts. The ENF is used to determine if an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is necessary, and projects that are scoped for an EIR are subject to ocean plan siting and performance standards. During EIR review, agencies assess project alternatives, mitigation measures (to avoid, minimize, or otherwise offset impacts), and public benefits of the project. To further streamline the process, agencies must ensure that all project certificates, licenses, permits, and approvals are consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with ocean plan standards and conditions. The siting and performance standards only apply to projects that occur within or cross some part of the ocean planning area.

Ocean Development Mitigation Fee

Projects subject to the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan are required to pay an Ocean Development Mitigation Fee to compensate the Commonwealth for unavoidable impacts to the broad public interests and rights in the lands, waters, and resources of the ocean planning area and to support the planning, management, restoration, or enhancement of marine habitat, resources, and uses pursuant to the Oceans Act. The fee structure (PDF, 108 KB) is based on project scope and anticipated impacts on habitat, natural resources, or water-dependent uses. During MEPA review, project alternatives, impacts (short-term, long-term, and cumulative), mitigation measures, and public benefits are used to determine the fee rate. Collected fees are placed in the Ocean Resources and Waterways Trust to support the planning, management, restoration, or enhancement of marine habitat, resources, and uses pursuant to the Massachusetts Oceans Act.

Baseline Assessment and Data Management

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan depends on the best available data to identify special, sensitive, or unique habitats and important areas of concentrated water-dependent uses and to track the conditions and uses of ocean waters. These data are compiled in the Baseline Assessment, which is an extensive characterization of current knowledge of human uses, natural and cultural resources, the physical environment, and economic value in Massachusetts ocean waters and adjacent federal waters. Much of this information is compiled from reports developed by six technical work groups (Habitat, Fisheries, Transportation and Navigation, Sediment Resources, Recreational and Cultural Services, and Energy and Infrastructure). These work groups include nearly 100 science, technical, and subject-matter experts from state and federal agencies, academia, non-profits, and the private sector. The Baseline Assessment is revisited when the ocean plan is updated. For links to the Baseline Assessment and work group reports, see the 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan.

Science Framework and Data Priorities

The Science Framework identifies the data and analysis necessary to support ocean management and the continued evolution of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. Based on recommendations from the technical work groups and input from the Ocean Science Advisory Council, the ocean plan prioritizes near-term and longer-term actions. The 2015 ocean plan established the following near-term science and data actions: characterization of marine sand deposits and development of regional sediment budgets; characterization of potential wind energy transmission corridors; advancement of marine habitat mapping; monitoring of climate change across Massachusetts ocean waters; identification of ecologically important areas; improvement of data and maps for specific resources (important fish resources, sea turtles, marine birds, recreational and commercial fishing, submerged wrecks, and ancient Native American land use); and refinement and implementation of the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework to improve ocean plan review and updating. Long-term priorities were to: characterize the economics of Massachusetts-specific fisheries; assess potential and emerging climate change impacts on ocean and coastal environments; develop a database and identify spatial patterns of important recreational uses (such as diving, ocean-based wildlife viewing, surfing, and non-motorized boating); evaluate underwater noise and its potential effects on marine animals; and continue to advance integrated geospatial data management. For links to the Science Framework, see Volume 2 of the 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. Progress on these priorities will be evaluated and suggestions for new priorities will evolve from the ocean plan review process.

Stakeholder Involvement and Public Comment

Continued evolution of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan requires robust input and guidance from experts, stakeholders, and the public. The 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission, which includes legislators, agency representatives, and stakeholder representatives, advises the EEA Secretary on ocean plan review, implementation, and related ocean management issues and holds public meetings to promote stakeholder input. The Ocean Science Advisory Council, made up of nine experts in marine science, policy, and data management, supports the EEA Secretary with the science and technical aspects of the ocean plan. Technical work groups provide input from nearly 100 additional experts. During ocean plan reviews, updates, and amendments, extensive public input is solicited through workshops, hearings, stakeholder meetings, and direct solicitation of public comment.

For More Information and to Participate in the Public Comment Process

Copies of the 2009 ocean plan, the 2015 amendment, and supporting documents are available through the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan home page. For more information about the ocean plan, please contact prassede.vella@mass.gov. If you wish to receive emails as part of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan review process, please send a blank email to join-env-oceanplan@listserv.state.ma.us.

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