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Sea Grant in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

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Woods Hole Sea Grant Strategic Plan

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is one of the smallest states in the U.S. with only 8,257 square miles of total area, yet it is also the third most densely populated state, with a population of over 6.3 million people (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000; In particular, the coastal communities of Cape Cod, the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and the South Coast have seen dramatic growth when compared to the rest of the state: populations in these coastal communities represent one-third of the total population.

The Commonwealth’s 1,980 miles of coastline include extensive wetlands, tidal flats, and salt marshes, totaling 12 percent of the landmass. The Massachusetts coast is one of the most valuable natural and economic resources of the Commonwealth, providing jobs, transportation, and recreation to residents and visitors. There are 27 distinct watersheds within Massachusetts and critical issues related to the protection of these watersheds include wise planning of both land and aquatic resources.

Despite its small geographic size, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has many diverse communities—cities, colonial villages, historic mill towns, and rustic farmlands. The economic base of these communities is equally diverse.

Massachusetts continues to show strong economic growth in the 21st century. The Corporation for Enterprise Development’s State Asset Development Report Cards for 2001–2003 ( show Massachusetts as a leader in economic performance, business vitality, development capacity, and education, building on the area’s strengths: knowledge-based economy, highly educated work force, high quality of life in communities, increased global trade, and industry clusters that share resources.

The communities in central and western Massachusetts have replaced many traditional manufacturing operations with new industries, such as biotechnology and fiber optics development.

The northeastern region of the state has seen a transition: textile mills along the banks of the Merrimack River have been replaced by high-technology electronics companies.

Map of Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Metro Boston is a center of educational institutions, financial service companies, medical centers, and advanced technology centers.

Southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and the South Coast, is the center of marine science related industries, including marine instrumentation, fishing, aquaculture, and tourism.

The Massachusetts marine economy—providing nearly 82,000 jobs, or 2.5 percent of the state’s workforce—is responsible for $1.9 billion in earnings. Jobs in this sector are distributed in commercial seafood industries, marine transportation, tourism, recreation, marine technology and education, and coastal construction and real estate. Current estimates of various marine related industries are listed below.

Annual Value of Some Marine-related and Other Industries in Massachusetts1

  • Recreational Fishing 2: $500 Million to $1.1 Billion (1998-2004)
  • Tourism 3: $11.1 Billion (2003)
  • Agriculture 4: $384 Million (cranberries account for 20% of this total; 2002)
  • Forest Products 5: $580 to $845 Million (2003)
  • Commercial Fishing Landings 6: $585 Million (2003)
  • Commercial Fishing Support 9: $132 Million (1997)
  • Commercial Fishing Salaries 9: $659 Million (1997)
  • Mining (sand & gravel) 7: $71 Million (2003)
  • Aquaculture 4: $9.5 Million (2002)
  • Coastal Construction & Real Estate 10: $177 Million (1997)
  • Marine Instrumentation 10: $239 Million (1997)
  • Marine Transportation 8: $235 Million (1997)
  • Biotechnology 10: $6.7 Billion (2001)

1 Figures represent most current data available; they do not reflect associated economic multipliers.
2 National Marine Fisheries Service (Steinback, et al, 1998), Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (2004)
3 Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (2003)
4 US Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service (2002)
5 Massachusetts Forest Products Association
6 National Marine Fisheries Service, Annual Commercial Landings Statistics (2003)
7 The Mineral Industry of Massachusetts (2003)
8 (1997)
9 University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute (2000)
10 Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force Report, (2004)

In spite of recent economic growth and prosperity in these industrial sectors within Massachusetts, there are concerns that need to be addressed to endure future growth and prosperity, especially in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands. These issues include education and job training, expanded infrastructure for emerging and expanding industries (e.g., aquaculture, biotechnology, and communications), and balanced and sustained growth. In 2003, Massachusetts undertook an extensive review of ocean industries and use conflicts within its coastal waters; a task force made its recommendations in the 2004 report, Waves of Change, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force (

Many of the challenges identified in the Commonwealth mirror those facing coastal regions throughout the U.S.—discussed extensively in the Pew Oceans Commission report America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. These documents have been used extensively in discussions shaping the strategic planning process for Woods Hole Sea Grant.

Likewise, Sea Grant’s parent agency, NOAA, in its 2005–2010 strategic plan, identified four mission goals:

  • Protect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through an ecosystem approach to management
  • Understand climate variability and change to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond
  • Serve society’s needs for weather and water information
  • Support the nation’s commerce with information for safe, efficient, and environmentally sound transportation

Additionally, NOAA has selected five priorities:

  • developing, valuing, and sustaining a world-class workforce
  • integrating global environmental observation and data management
  • ensuring sound, state-of-the-art research
  • promoting environmental literacy
  • exercising international leadership

These cross-cutting issues are further integrated within the theme approach outlined in Sea Grant’s Strategic Plan for FY 2003-2008 and Beyond. Collectively, these documents guided the development of Woods Hole Sea Grant theme areas and delineate the most important tasks to meet local, regional, and national needs.

Last updated: June 24, 2014

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