Letter - Better Coordination Needed between Ocean Planning and Marine Resources Management

from Dr. David Dow, East Falmouth

I recently participated in the Cape Cod Climate Change Cooperative's “Pathways to Net Zero Round Table” where Dr. Lynne Carter (Louisiana State University Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Geography & Anthropology) discussed the recent UN  Climate Report on the Cryosphere and Oceans and the US Climate Change Research Research Program report NCA4 Volume 2 on Impacts, Risks and Adaptation.  This meeting also included a 20 minute presentation by Senator Edward Markey and a thought provoking presentation by Susan Starkey (Co-chair of Faith Community Environmental Network) on the “Moral Imperative: Call to Action” which was a prelude to the recent meeting  in Chatham. Last week I attended the Cape Cod Commission’s public listening session on the Regional Poicy Plan (RPP) and climate change at the Mashpee Public Library.

As a retired marine scientist from the Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole and grassroots environmental activist, I feel that we need better planning/policy coordination and integrated action between ocean planning (Northeast Regional Ocean Plan and Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan) and management of marine resources in state (0-3 miles)/federal jurisdictional (3-200 miles miles).  Global warming in the ocean has lead to  changes in the marine food chain; shifts in the distribution of fish prey and predators in space and time; increased mortality in right, humpback and minke whales from ship strikes and gear entanglements (Unusual Mortality Event); effects of nitrogen enrichment, warming waters and ocean acidity on the productive capacity of Essential Fish Habitats in Cape Cod embayments and user conflicts in the coastal ocean (wind farms;  fishing; recreational boating; US Naval training; increased ocean noise from shipping and oil/gas exploration; etc.).  The “Net Zero Round Table” meeting featured a panel discussing “Offshore Wind Done Right”, while the recent NOAA Fisheries hearing on North Atlantic right whale mortality from lobster gear entanglements discussed ocean noise and climate change effects that has exacerbated this population decline (due to increased mortality in Northeastern feeding areas and decreased calving rate off the southeastern US coast).

The development of ocean wind farms is one of the outgrowths of federal (NE Regional Ocean Plan) and State (Massa. Ocean Management Plan)  planning endeavors which would benefit from better coordination with inshore (Massa. Division of Marine Fisheries & Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) and offshore Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils and NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office) fisheries management process.  MOMP doesn’t address either fisheries management issues or effects on the coastal ocean (0.3 to 3 miles) from human activities in coastal watersheds (nitrogen loading; toxic contaminants of emerging concern like perflourinated chemicals or PFAS).  NEROP includes databases on marine biota and their habitats in the offshore ocean, but is not engaged in the management of living marine (fish and shellfish); protected (marine mammals and sea turtles) or natural trust resources (seabirds).  The CCC RPP doesn’t interact with any of these other ocean planning and regulatory processes at the state or federal level.

A simple example of where coordinated planning and action comes from the Coonamesset River freshwater wetland restoration project in Mashpee and Falmouth where conversion of former cranberry bogs into wetlands has aided fish like river herring and other species that migrate between freshwater and open ocean habitats.  In the federal ocean waters the NEFMC and NOAA Fisheries GARFO are considering regulations to restrict paired trawl vessels which target forage fish (mackerel; sea herring; river herring; etc.) with a proposed 25 mile buffer zone off Cape Cod.  The Ma. DMF doesn’t allow the catch of river herring in coastal waters (0-3 miles).  The restoration of freshwater wetlands provide a number of ecological services (buffers from storm surge; assimilation of nitrogen; increasing diversity of native plant species; recovery of riverine flow patterns and habitat for aquatic species; increase in amphibians/turtles and bird species in the wetlands) and return of the freshwater wetlands to their original condition (allowing more efficient and productive cranberry bogs to be developed elsewhere).  Drs. Chris Neill and Linda Deegan (Woods Hole Research Center) have done a lot of research on this endeavor and made public presentations. The Coonamesset River  Restoration Project is supported by the Town of Falmouth; Massa. Dept. of Environmental Restoration; NOAA Restoration Center; Coonamesset River Trust; 300 Committee; Massa. Environmental Trust; Falmouth Community Preservation Fund; Falmouth Rod & Gun Club and numerous volunteers.

This illustrates the value of integrating planning and action within coastal watersheds to ocean planning/fishery management regulations in the ocean water surrounding Cape Cod that would benefit our natural environment and “Blue Economy” on Cape Cod. Many retirees move to Cape Cod and tourist visit us to enjoy our natural amenities and less complicated life styles.  Fishermen/women face challenges with loss of the working waterfront to other types of economic development.  Younger people face challenges in renting apartments and buying homes on the salaries that they can make in their jobs.  The economic challenges that we face in developing a wastewater infrastructure to reduce nitrogen loading from septic systems; eliminating PFAS chemicals from our public and private drinking water wells; addressing climate resilience and supporting an aging population will stress our resources (people and $) in the future.  Thus we need to find more efficient and cost effective ways to convert scientific information into public policy and regulations that address the link between our land and the surrounding ocean. I hope that interested citizens and public interest groups can work with local/state/federal regulators to make this happen sooner rather than later.

I certainly don’t have the answer for these challenges and simply want to encourage pubic dialog on how the address these problems in an integrated fashion.

Dr. David D. Dow

East Falmouth, Ma.

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