Ocean Planning in the Northeast

Website for the Northeast Regional Planning Body Northeast RPB Projects Recreation and Tourism

Recreation and Tourism

Recreation on the ocean and coast includes many of New Englanders’ most time-honored and beloved activities—from boating, swimming, and surfing to recreational fishing and bird-watching. The Northeast RPB is working with partners to gather data to characterize where, when, and how New Englanders use the ocean for recreation. In addition to working with fishermen, businesses, and conservation agencies, the RPB and its partners are reaching out to boaters, swimmers, and other members of the public to make sure their voices are heard.

What’s Been Done

2012 Recreational Boating Study

In 2012, a partnership including SeaPlan, the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC), representatives of the boating industry, New England states, the state of New York, and the U.S. Coast Guard conducted the Northeast Recreational Boating Survey. A key tool for ocean planning in the Northeast, the survey characterizes when, where, and how New Englanders motor and sail for fun. The results of the survey, which was based on input from boaters themselves, give us important information on where and how recreational boating interacts with other ocean uses, or might in the future. They also provide important information about the economic output of recreational boating and boaters’ perspectives on coastal issues.

More than 12,000 boaters from Maine to New York participated, and publicity about the survey—particularly a story by the Associated Press—has put ocean planning issues in front of many more ocean stakeholders. The article highlights the survey’s findings on the economic impact of recreational boating in New England—about $3.5 billion in 2012.

In April 2013, after the survey was completed, NROC, SeaPlan, and industry partners held a series of workshops with government and industry representatives to review draft survey results and to further discuss regional ocean planning issues. A summary of these meetings is available (PDF) (23pp, 683K).

2015 Recreational Characterization Study

In 2015, the RPB launched a study to characterize recreational activities in the Northeast. With input from industry representatives, stakeholder groups, and an RPB steering committee, the study was led by a project team that included Point 97, SeaPlan, and the Surfrider Foundation. Information was specifically collected on:

  1. Whale watching activities, characterized through a series of in-person workshops held with industry representatives throughout the region from late April to late May.
  2. SCUBA diving activities and marine events, including sailing regattas, saltwater sportfishing tournaments, and competitive board and paddle events.
  3. Individual recreational uses, such as sea kayaking, surfing, and general beach uses, categorized as shore-based, surface water, diving, and wildlife and sightseeing activities.

These activities were characterized through in-person meetings, participatory mapping exercises, online surveys, and supplemental research. For a summary of methods and results, see the Final Report: Characterization of Coastal and Marine Recreational Activity in the U.S. Northeast (265pp, 9M).

Key Highlights/Takeaways

  • Effective engagement with industry representatives through the Recreational Characterization Study resulted in a series of maps characterizing SCUBA diving, commercial whale watching, and distance sailing race activities in the Northeast.
  • Methods for characterizing recreational activities are most effective when tailored to the specific activity in question, in part to ensure successful engagement with members of the community.
  • The Northeast Recreational Boating Survey confirmed assumptions that most recreational boating occurs close to shore and along key transit routes. It also resulted in maps showing the relative level of boating activity throughout the region.
  • Recreational boating trips drive an economic engine of about $3.5 billion per year—not including boat sales and visits from boats registered outside the region.
  • Recreational fishing, particularly striped bass fishing, is the most popular boat-based activity—confirming the need to further document the importance of recreational fishing in New England.

Next Steps

Information gathered from the 2015 Recreational Characterization Study along with the 2012 Recreational Boating Survey provides a better understanding of recreational use in the Northeast and data is now available for review in the Northeast Ocean Data Portal.

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Ocean Planning Timeline

  • November 2012 Inaugural Northeast RPB Meeting: Develop common understanding about the RPB; provide context and lay foundation of regional ocean planning; engage stakeholders and the public, discuss initial focus.
    April 2013 Northeast RPB Meeting: Northeast RPB Meeting: Identify draft goals for regional ocean planning and mechanisms for receiving public input about those draft goals; provide opportunities for public input about topics under consideration.
    May/June 2013 Public Comment Meetings: Ten public meetings throughout New England to discuss draft regional ocean planning goals.
  • January Northeast RPB Meeting: approve goals and objectives; move forward on related tasks.
    May/June Public Engagement: Natural Resources Workshops and focused engagement to discuss progress toward goals of effective Decision-Making and Healthy Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems.
    June Northeast RPB Meeting: Review progress toward all goals.
    Fall Public meetings/workshops and Northeast RPB meeting: Feedback on progress toward each goal.
  • Spring Stakeholder Forum: Review progress on the use of marine life and ocean use data, regulatory coordination, and future scenario development.
    June Northeast RPB Meeting: Review approach to developing draft plan by considering agency use of ocean plan data products; discuss draft outline for regional ocean plan.
    Fall Northeast RPB meeting and public meetings: Review revised products for each goal; discuss future work of the RPB.
  • Winter EBM Working Group: Review progress on Draft Northeast Ocean Plan, marine life and habitat data product development, including IEAs Framework.
    Spring Northeast RPB Meeting (via webinar): Release Draft Plan for public review.
    Summer Collect public comment on the Draft Plan through public meetings and other opportunities.
    Fall September public webinar to review changes to the Draft Plan and October submittal of revised Plan to the National Ocean Council.

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