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Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan Overview

Find a brief summary of the major components of the ocean plan.

The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan protects critical marine habitat and important water-dependent uses and provides a management framework for ocean-based projects in Massachusetts. In response to the Oceans Act of 2008, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) issued the original ocean plan in 2009. The Oceans Act requires EEA to review the ocean plan at least once every five years, and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) leads the review process. On January 3, 2022, EEA released the final 2021 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, which now supersedes all previous ocean plans.

This summary provides an overview of the ocean plan organized around key plan elements and review requirements.

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 the Ocean Management 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, CZM is responsible for the administration, implementation, and oversight of the ocean plan.

Plan Administration

The ocean 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 SSU and WDU areas (see Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan Data) 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 ocean 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 under the Oceans Act. The fee structure (PDF, 124 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 under the Oceans Act.

Baseline Assessment and Data Management

The ocean 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 and Geology, Cultural Heritage and Recreational Uses, and Energy and Infrastructure). These work groups include nearly 100 science, technical, and subject-matter experts from state and federal agencies, academia, nonprofits, and the private sector. The Baseline Assessment is revisited when the ocean plan is updated. 

Science Framework and Data Priorities

The Science Framework identifies the data and analysis necessary to support ocean management and the continued evolution of the ocean 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.

Stakeholder Involvement and Public Comment

Continued evolution of the ocean plan requires robust input and guidance from experts, stakeholders, and the public. The 18-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 each ocean plan version 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 ocean plan review process, please send a blank email to join-env-oceanplan@listserv.state.ma.us.

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