Regional Ocean Planning | Exchange Trips | Mapping Working Waters

Maine’s island communities rely heavily on access to the ocean, both by directly harvesting marine resources from the water and the physical working waterfront infrastructure connecting commercial fishing activities to land-based markets. Decisions about how these waters are used could significantly impact the long-term economic health of these communities. Shifts in the ecosystem related to climate change and changes in how ocean space is used will affect the distribution of current and emerging ocean uses. Understanding the connection between island communities and their nearby working waters is critical to helping these communities capitalize on opportunities presented by ocean planning and mitigate potential threats.

We work to ensure island voices are included in the ocean planning process by:

  • Collecting information, both spatial and contextual, about island and coastal communities and their use of the ocean;
  • Sharing that information with regional and national policy makers to help them understand how Maine fisheries use coastal and offshore waters;
  • Participating in the emerging regional ocean planning process;
  • Advocating for the protection of natural resource dependent communities.


Regional Ocean Planning

In 2010, the National Ocean Policy, a Presidential Executive Order, was signed to improve management of our oceans and coasts through establishing a series of regional planning bodies. We engage in the New England regional planning process to improve the interaction between federal agencies or project developers and those who rely on the ocean for their living. We also want ensure that  decision-makers are aware of the incredibly important relationship between island or natural resource dependant coastal communities and use of nearby ocean space to support their economies. We believe that this process can potentially be useful in addressing issues of working waterfront preservation and climate change.

Incorporating Community into the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan  

The economic health of New England's working waterfront communities relies on a healthy ocean and coastal ecosystem, and their very existence can be tied to the ability to fish in a particular area. The specific places in the ocean that these communities rely on are determined in part by the size of their boats, the species being sought, fishing pressure from other communities, government regulations and other factors. We are working hard to provide several additional data layers and incorporate provisions in the regional ocean plan that will help support small communities and help Federal agencies make better informed decisions about changing ocean uses. 

Read our report from April 2015, Incorporating Community into Regional Ocean Planning.

Engaging Communities in Offshore Wind: report and webinar recording

Our newly released report on engaging communities in offshore wind provides insights for designing a good community and developer engagement processes. The report includes case studies from three New England islands, Block Island (RI), Martha's Vineyard (MA), and Monhegan (ME). These lessons are also important for ocean planning, and will hopefully be incorporated into the creating of the Northeast Ocean Plan.

Learn more about our Ocean Renewable Energy work. 
Lobster Industry Characterization

The lobster fishery provides substantial economic value to the state but is missing from the regional ocean plan. Given the significant environmental and economic changes in the fishery in the last decade, it is even more important that this fishery and its 4,200 vessels’ increasing reliance on offshore areas are identified in the Northeast regional ocean data and included in the resulting ocean plan. Our new report documents the changes seen in Maine lobster fishing practices over the last 15 to 20 years. This will help inform the Northeast Regional Ocean Planning process of these changing practices and how it relates to both inshore and offshore ocean space.  

Read the report here.

View our webinar from April 2016, summarizing this report: Lobster and Ocean Planning: A Spatial Characterization of the Lobster Fishery for the New England Regional Planning Body

For more information on this work, please contact Nick Battista.




Exchange Trips

In February 2014, the Island Institute Marine Team brought three fishermen from the United Kingdom to Maine to share their experiences with the development of wind farms in productive fishing grounds. Much of the conversation was focused on how they had sustained their working waterfront in the face of significant changes in the use of nearby ocean space.


In May 2014, the Island Institute brought a small group of fishermen, community leaders, and others involved in British Columbia's marine spatial process to Maine as part of a series of information exchanges around ocean planning.Our visitors spoke about the process they used, stakeholder engagement efforts, and what lessons might be transferable to New England.


Mapping Working Waters

In 2009, the Island Institute started a Mapping Working Waters initiative to document how island and coastal communities use and depend on marine areas, with the intention of helping Maine coastal and island communities be able to tell the story to decision and policy-makers about their relationship with the ocean. In 2011, we mapped community fishing areas further offshore because of the interest and potential for offshore wind development. The report from the pilot project is available here and the report from the more offshore focused project is here. This mapping work helped inform the fisheries characterization efforts conducted by the New England regional planning body.


  • Map community activities, with a particular focus on commercial fishing and other activities that are not currently documented;
  • Gather data on location, intensity, and seasonality of uses;
  • Document place names at sea, and the story behind these names;
  • Provide map products and data to all participants for their own use;Protect individual information while creating aggregated data products that can be shared publicly;
  • Contribute resulting data to Maine Coastal Atlas, NERACOOS and other appropriate organizations, publications and systems;

For more information on the Mapping Working Waters project, please contact:
Nick Battista, Marine Programs Director


In 2012 and 2013 the Island Institute led a team that characterized commercial fishing activity in off of New England as part collecting information for the Regional Ocean Planning process. The report is available here.