Update on Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Draft Management Plan and Environmental Assessment
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Draft Management Plan and Environmental Assessment (DMP) lays the foundation for restoring and protecting the sanctuary’s ecosystem; details the human pressures that threaten the qualities and resources of the sanctuary; and recommends actions that should be taken both now and in the future to better manage the area and resources. These recommendations are contained in eleven action plans that address high priority issues in four areas: capacity building, ecosystem protection, marine mammal protection and maritime heritage management.
After eight public meetings in four states and three months of an open comment period NOAA has received numerous comments to date on the DMP. To address requests for additional time, NOAA extended the official comment period for the DMP by two months. The comment period closed on October 3, 2008.
NOAA’s response to all of these comments will be available in the final management plan. NOAA greatly appreciates all comments on the document as strong public participation and input is critical to shaping the future of the sanctuary. However, based on both the comments received to date and reports in the media, NOAA would like to draw your attention to a few points to clarify what appear to be some misconceptions about what is actually being proposed:
- There have been concerns that the DMP will result in the immediate closure or restriction on certain fishing activities.
The DMP will not result in any immediate restriction or closure of fishing. The DMP proposes that any future restrictions would come only after consultation with the fishing community (and others), and coordination with the New England Fishery Management Council and the NOAA Fisheries Service.
- Some comments appear to suggest that the DMP calls for the elimination of diving within the sanctuary.
The DMP does not call for the elimination of diving, but rather proposes measures to facilitate responsible diving in the sanctuary. Divers are free to dive as long as they abide by sanctuary regulations.
- Some commenters have stated that the DMP proposes to eliminate whale watching within the sanctuary.
The DMP is not proposing any regulations or restrictions that eliminate whale watching. Whale watching is the principal means of interpretive education about marine mammals in the sanctuary and the DMP supports a continuation of the activity. The DMP proposes looking for ways to make whale watching more compatible with the protection of marine mammals and existing laws protecting marine mammals. Any possible future sanctuary restrictions on vessel operations associated with whale watching would come after consultation with constituents, including whale watch operators and NOAA Fisheries.
- Some commenters have suggested that the DMP is not based on peer-reviewed science.
The background and technical information in the DMP draws upon a foundation of over 670 source documents, most of which are peer-reviewed scientific papers published in reputable professional journals.