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Taunton Bay Ecosystem Project

Case Authors

Matthew Griffis, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


Taunton Bay in Maine is the site of a joint effort by the state Department of Marine Resources and community members to manage the bay using ecosystem-based management principles.

The effort grew out of concerns that a bridge replacement project would provide access for larger commercial draggers that would adversely impact the ecosystem.

A Comprehensive Science-Based Management Plan established a local, community-based Taunton Bay Advisory Group that includes user groups. The group and state are implementing components of the management plan. The plan was based on science and commitments to local stewardship and adaptive management.

The effort has resulted in restrictions on harvesting of mussels and urchins within the bay, increased scientific understanding of the ecosystem, and created a forum for community members to discuss the variety of views of user groups within the bay, and develop an understanding that sustainable harvesting can co-exist with protection of the bay.

MEBM Attributes

  • Balance/Integration: Harvesters participated in a rule-making process and share stewardship responsibility over the resource with the state.
  • Collaboration: The advisory group provides a forum for joint learning and discussion of the bay.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The goal of the marine ecosystem-based management efforts in Taunton Bay on the coast of Maine is to manage human uses in a manner that will protect and sustain ecological functions and values, and manage marine resources for the long-term use and enjoyment of all citizens of Maine.


Primary objectives include:

  • Management of Taunton Bay will reflect a diversity of issues and uses.
  • Advisory group will report on progress and recommendations.
  • Physical disturbance will be managed to protect eelgrass, and other rare and sensitive species.
  • Maintain light penetration depth through the water column to protect historically mapped eelgrass beds.
  • Prevent an increase in shellfish closures.
  • Sedimentation from human activities does not negatively affect other ecological or human uses.
  • Attain state of Maine swimming standards.
  • Horseshoe crab populations to remain stable or increase.
  • Restore mussels, scallops and urchin populations.
  • Support sustainable commercial and recreational harvests.
  • Measurable impacts from aquaculture operations are confined to the lease site or vicinity of discharge.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations


  • Maine Department of Marine Resources


  • Taunton Bay Advisory Group

          o Representatives of three adjacent towns

          o Commercial harvesters

          o Aquaculturalist

          o Conservationist

          o Business owner

          o Non-local citizen

          o Property owner

          o Scientist

          o Recreation representative

          o Maine Department of Marine Resources

Key Parties


  • Friends of Taunton Bay


Program Structure

Taunton Bay Advisory Group

The Taunton Bay Advisory Group was formed as part of the Comprehensive Science-Based Management Plan and is coordinated by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The management plan defines 16 roles to be represented by different interests. The DMR has recruited local community members with a known interest in the bay to fill the seats. Still, some of the positions have been vacant, likely because of a lack of interest in the group. Many meetings draw only five or six representatives.

The advisory group advises the DMR commissioner and has no actual decision-making authority. It does not have a chairman or any officers. The group tries to meet monthly, but it does not always meet this regularly due to lack of a quorum. Meetings are facilitated by a volunteer from the Maine Sea Grant Extension. While no decision rule has been officially adopted, the group does not vote and tries to operate by consensus.

Friends of Taunton Bay

Several community members who were recruited to serve on the advisory group were members of a pre-existing and well-organized local group, the Friends of Taunton Bay, which is independent of the Taunton Bay Advisory Group. The mission of the Friends of Taunton Bay is to understand and promote the health and integrity of the Taunton Bay ecosystem. The group conducts volunteer monitoring of the bay, and advocates for conservation measures, which included the dragging moratorium.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

The marine ecosystem-based management effort in Taunton Bay was sparked by concerns that the bay would be opened to more intensive harvesting of commercial species such as urchins, scallops and mussels.

A highway bridge that spanned the waters at the entrance to the bay had prevented larger commercial draggers from harvesting from the ban, but a proposal to replace the bridge with a taller structure would allow those vessels to access the bay.

As the bridge project was pending, the Maine Legislature closed Taunton Bay to bottom dragging for five years and issued a directive to the Department of Marine Resources to assess the impacts of mussel dragging and report its findings and recommendations to the legislature.

The moratorium was extended for one year to allow the DMR to conduct studies and develop a management plan for the bay. At the same time, a statewide effort had begun to study bay management statewide.

The statewide study was sparked by a 2004 state law and the results of the Maine Aquaculture Task Force. Taunton Bay was chosen as one of two pilot projects. The Taunton Bay pilot project focused on assessing indicators, mapping, economics, governance, and outreach related to collaborative bay management. In January 2007, the DMR released the Taunton Bay Comprehensive Science-Based Management Plan as its report to the Legislature.

The plan established a local community-based Taunton Bay Advisory Group to advise the state commissioner of marine resources in management decisions related to the bay. Since its release, the DMR and Taunton Bay Advisory Group have worked to begin implementing components of the management plan.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

Taunton Bay is a small, sheltered, and ecologically productive bay on the central coast of Maine. Its ecosystem includes seven primary habitats: mud, gravel, salt marsh, eelgrass, kelp, rockweed, and the water column.

Harvested marine resources include American eel, clams, crabs, horseshoe crabs, kelp, lobsters, river herring, rockweed, scallops and urchins. Oysters are harvested through aquaculture in the bay.

Bald eagles, osprey and harbor seals inhabit the bay.


The primary ecosystem stressors disturb the habitat and water quality and include the following sources:

  • Commercial dragging for harvested species that alters benthic habitats.
  • Commercial digging for worms and clams that reduces food availability to shorebirds and deters them from foraging.
  • Toxic contamination that stresses marine wildlife and changes the availability of food.
  • Turbidity, eutrophication, sewage and toxic contamination diminishes water quality.

In addition, the bay’s location – relatively far away from the open ocean -- encourages the retention of pollutants.


Major Strategies

Scientific Understanding

Before the state imposed a moratorium on dragging in 2000, there was scant scientific data on Taunton Bay. Studies have been conducted on mudflat management in the bay and on subtidal benthic fisheries. The Taunton Bay Study, a pilot project under the statewide bay management study, established and evaluated 23 ecosystem indicators and began to map the bay. The Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Taunton Bay Advisory Group are gathering data on a variety of ecosystem components.


New regulations have been established by the DMR for some commercial harvesters. Harvesters were engaged in the rulemaking process. The regulations define a management area where harvesters share stewardship responsibilities with the DMR. The regulations also require harvesters to participate in a pre-harvest stewardship meeting. Quotas are set for sea urchin and scallop harvesting. Harvesters have to report their weekly catch.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

The Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Taunton Bay Advisory Group are gathering data on a variety of ecosystem components through water quality sampling, fisheries assessments, horseshoe grass monitoring, and mapping of eelgrass beds.



Marine ecosystem-based management in the Taunton Bay on the coast of Maine has achieved the following accomplishments or impacts:

  • Scientific Understanding: The Taunton Bay Advisory Group and Maine Department of Marine Resources have made great strides in increasing their understanding of the bay.
  • Building Bridges: The advisory group also has made strides understanding and accepting the wide variety of viewpoints represented on the group. Members have come together to understand that with proper ecosystem-based management, sustainable harvesting can co-exist with protection of the bay.



Marine ecosystem-based management in the Taunton Bay has faced the following challenges:

  • Engaging Stakeholders: Securing the participation stakeholders on the Taunton Bay Advisory Group has been challenging. Although members of the Friends of Taunton Bay who serve on the advisory group have been actively engaged, their involvement has not been matched by many others. Fishermen, in particular, have been hard to engage.
  • Creating a Vision: Although the management plan provides a framework, the effort suffers from a lack of a vision for the bay. As one participant commented, “I think we [DMR] don’t have a totally clear direction on where we’re going and where we want to end up. I certainly don’t think the Advisory Group has a picture of where they want to end up.”
  • Enforcement: Fisheries enforcement is a particular challenge. Harvest levels are self-reported by fishermen, and there are only about 45 marine enforcement officers for Maine’s entire coast. Officer visits to Taunton Bay are infrequent.


Website Links

Taunton Bay Comprehensive Science-Based Management Plan:

Taunton Bay Advisory Group (Maine Department of Marine Resources):