Oregon Moves to Zone Ocean

The idea of zoning U.S. territorial waters is not new. Ocean zoning, a central component of marine spatial planning, is the next logical step from simply setting aside marine protected areas. Coastal and marine spatial planning, together with ecosystem-based management, are among the National Priority Objectives recommended by the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force as part of President Barack Obama’s National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes. Now the State of Oregon is following those federal recommendations by moving to zone its territorial waters in the Pacific Ocean.

What is ocean zoning?

Under a system of ocean zoning, each region of ocean is assessed for its suitability for various uses. Based on that assessment, those regions will then be zoned to allocate those uses in the best way possible, with regional resource management and dedicated use replacing quotas and licenses. This should also have the effect of separating incompatible activities, which quotas and licensing could not do.

How will ocean zoning work in Oregon?

All ocean zoning plans require 2 components: a zoning map and the regulations applicable to each type of zone. Oregon has developed an interactive digital map of its coastal region, including ocean uses and natural features. This makes it easy to see prime fishing grounds, seabird nesting grounds, and even commercial shipping lanes at a glance.

Once the basic locations, resources, and uses had been identified, Oregon went on to divide its coastal region accordingly. An immediate complication was that most zoned areas already had existing uses. This is not surprising, given that so much of the ocean is overfished and so many marine-protected areas are threatened. Oregon’s goal now is to identify zoned areas with the least amount of use conflict.


Some businesses are unhappy with the new structure. Wave energy developer Justin Klure, of Pacific Energy Ventures, points out that the zones are very small and don’t accord with the needs of the industry, which include access to port, access to transmission, and specific water depths.

However, this type of complaint is probably inevitable in the new zoning system. Each of the needs identified by Klure would fall under a different primary use. In the past, similar industry leased the necessary waters and port access and licensed the activities it conducted there. Under the new system, the true cross-zone impact of industry is clearly visible, so that roles and responsibilities can be properly assigned. For example, in their current level of development, ocean fishing and ocean energy projects are incompatible.

At least one ocean energy company has decided against investing in Oregon’s coastal waters because of the new system. As of January 2012, Scotland-based Aquamarine Power has closed its Oregon office. It plans on concentrating on its California projects until the marine zoning regulations have been sorted out. Aquamarine Power makes an energy generator which uses wave energy from just below the surface of the sea.

The new zoning system won’t affect Ocean Power Technologies’ demonstration project, the first commercial wave energy park on the West Coast. Its approval predates the new zoning regulations.