When, in 2009, Rhode Island and Massachusetts coastal zone managers first mulled over the idea of creating an “area of mutual interest,” they knew uncharted territory lay ahead.
The term, often called an AMI, traditionally refers to a location designated for partners, under contract, to use for extraction of gas and oil. In this case the AMI refers to an area designated for the two states to explore as part of the nation’s effort to assess its potential for tapping offshore renewable energy resources.
But it was the charted territory — literally, maps of fishing grounds — that emerged from the collaboration that proved most striking. “This is the first time I know of that fishermen have knowingly and willingly shown the government their most valuable areas for fishing, and in a level of detail that can be used to pin down to specific habitats,” said Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). “It’s a huge step forward for protecting fishing grounds and for ocean planning in federal areas.”
The fishing community is generally leery of revealing where prime grounds are — doing so could invite competition in an already restricted work environment. During the development of the Ocean SAMP and AMI, however, a significant change took place. A more trusting relationship developed between some members of the local fishing community, the CRMC and members of the Ocean SAMP team — many of whom are extension agents for the Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program.
“We wanted to be sure that fishermen were at the Ocean SAMP table,” said Ocean SAMP outreach manager Jennifer McCann, director of extension programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant. “It was a challenge. We heard fishermen say they realized that unless they showed the federal government which fishing grounds they most needed, they could be at risk for losing them in the future.”
Protecting Cox’s Ledge
The fishermen’s decision to meet with federal representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for “an extensive consultation process,” as described by a BOEM press release from last year, has proven useful thus far. A portion of Cox’s Ledge, an area of rich fishing grounds 30 miles east of Montauk, N.Y., and within the federal AMI, has been removed from BOEM’s menu of potential siting locations for offshore renewable energy projects.
BOEM officials credit the consultation process for helping them identify a 164,750-acre section of federal ocean as a “Wind Energy Area” that avoids the portion of Cox’s Ledge. Officials said the Ocean SAMP process opened up an exchange between government and members of the fishing community that proved much richer in detail than the interactions of previous decades.
Michael Marchetti, president of the Eastern New England Scallop Association and a member of the Ocean SAMP Fisheries Advisory Board, said the removal of the Cox’s Ledge fishing grounds is an important step in protecting seafood resources and ensuring people’s livelihoods. “It’s a very important piece of ground for us; it’s prolific ground for scallop fishermen, and it’s valuable for the recreational guys as well, for tuna and shark,” he said.
Other topics could come under the same type of rigorous inspection including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, vessel traffic, and visual and cultural resources pertinent to the AMI, according to BOEM.
Smart from start
When the AMI project emerged, Rhode Island and Massachusetts coastal zone planners wanted to better position their states to engage with the federal government as it embarked on its first significant foray into offshore renewable resources planning. Having undertaken significant ocean resources planning and management work, both states stood prepared; Rhode Island was developing the Ocean SAMP, while Massachusetts was creating the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan.
At the same time, coastal states were starting to engage in the “Smart from the Start” program, a federal initiative to build efficiency and agility into the work of determining a slate of offshore locations that could host renewable energy projects. Recognizing that they both border a portion of federal offshore waters likely to make that slate, Rhode Island and Massachusetts agreed to form a partnership — the AMI.
The AMI, the states agreed, could be helpful on two ends. First, it could meet the immediate need of enabling the states to work as a single entity on the Smart from the Start program—thus eliminating any drag of competition and increasing the efficiency with which the states could collaborate with the federal government. Second, it provided a committed vehicle through which the states could work together to answer regional ocean resources management issues.
“With both states engaged in ocean planning and the responsible siting of offshore wind, it was easy to recognize the many benefits of working together to realize shared goals,” said Bruce Carlisle, director of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management.
While both states found the collaboration a success, it came with its challenges. The Rhode Island and Massachusetts AMI teams had to not only fully understand their own state’s ocean issues and political landscape, but also had to quickly develop a fluency with the partner state’s concerns.
Officials from both states said the extra effort was worth it; the partnership ensured that Rhode Island’s and Massachusetts’ goals for offshore renewable energy were recognized as proactive by the federal government.
Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of ecoRI News. Author credit goes to Sue Kennedy of URI Coastal Resources Center/Rhode Island Sea Grant.