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Northeast Regional Ocean Council

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) was established in 2005 by the governors of the New England states.

The NROC is a state-federal partnership that serves as a forum to identify the challenges and opportunities facing coastal and ocean management. Its overall goal is to create a more effective regional approach to ocean management. Its initial priorities included identifying areas for conservation, facilitating the siting of marine energy systems, and reducing conflict among ocean uses.

The NROC has developed into a regional mechanism to build the foundational elements of coastal and marine spatial planning, an important element of the Obama Administration’s National Ocean Policy of 2010.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private foundations awarded $2.5 million to the NROC to begin the stakeholder involvement process to develop the goals and objectives for regional ocean planning, and conduct baseline characterizations of ocean resources and uses.

One key project was the creation of the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, a single, publicly accessible location for data, maps, tools and other information to support regional marine planning.


MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Focus on an ecosystem-level scale.
  • Balance/Integration: Stated goal to support healthy ecosystems and multiple uses while minimizing conflicts.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) is to enhance coordination and collaboration among the New England states relative to the challenges and opportunities of coastal and ocean management.


The NROC has established the following objectives:

  • Achieve state and regional renewable energy goals.
  • Strive for healthy, resilient marine ecosystems.
  • Enable sustainable coastal economies.
  • Facilitate multiple uses while minimizing conflict among uses and between uses and natural resources.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island agencies, including:

  • Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection
  • Maine Coastal Program
  • Maine Department of Marine Resources
  • New Hampshire Coastal Program
  • Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management
  • Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
  • Rhode Island Bays, Rivers an Watersheds Coordination Team
  • Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council

Key Parties

Federal Agencies

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Bureau of Offshore Energy Management
  • US Geological Society
  • National Park Service
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Coast Guard
  • US Army Corps of Engineers
  • US Department of Agriculture
  • US Department of Homeland Security

Program Structure

Northeast Regional Ocean Council

The council consists of up to two senior-level representatives from the five participating New England states. Six federal agencies are equal members of the council. The position of chairman rotates among the states. Decisions are made by consensus. An annual report is given to the New England Governors’ Conference.

Executive Committee

The Executive Committee includes six people – the current, previous, and future council chairmen and vice chairmen. The committee handles administrative duties between meetings, develops recommendations for the council, and evaluates and reports on council progress.

Council Committees

The council can form committees to tackle specific issues or projects as needed.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

In 2005, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri suggested creating a regional ocean partnership. The previous year, the President George Bush issued the 2004 U.S. Ocean Action Plan, which emphasized developing new institutions and partnerships for regional and coastal ocean governance.

The New England governors endorsed Carcieri’s proposal, hoping to remedy a fractured management system and bring greater coordination to the many coastal and ocean initiatives in the region. They wanted to create a common vision for the region and create a mechanism that could communicate the region’s needs to federal partners. They also sought to support existing regional initiatives, such as the Gulf of Maine Council. 


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The varied ecosystems along the Northeast coast support diverse marine life and resources that are critical to the region’s economy. For instance, fish landings and associated activities are worth $800 million annually.


Human activities have degraded water quality, depleted fish stocks and damaged habitat.


Major Strategies

Supporting Marine Zoning

The Northeast Regional Ocean Council is supporting coastal and marine spatial planning in the New England region. It has established a set of operating principles that include:

  • Initial priorities should include energy siting, environmental conservation, and the support of multiple human uses of the marine environment.
  • Scale and level of detail of the plan should be commensurate with the data available.
  • The process should engage and reflect participation of stakeholders and the public.

The council is working on engaging stakeholders and the public, acquiring the necessary science and data to resolve information gaps, and developing data products to inform the planning process.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

To support coastal and marine spatial planning, the Northeast Regional Ocean Council has established a goal of developing a system to monitor and evaluate the performance of any implemented plan.

The system would include indicators to assess performance, a monitoring program to collect data on the indicators, and periodic evaluations of the data.



  • Creation of a regional data portal to facilitate the dissemination and review of information on human uses and natural resources relative to the marine environment.
  • Creation of a preliminary framework for regional ocean planning, including the description of regional goals and objectives.

Website Links

Northeast Regional Ocean Council: