The Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) is a legislatively mandated marine policy advisory body to provide, among other statutory charges, advice to the Governor, state agencies and local governments on ocean policy and resource management matters.

OPAC membership is representative of coastal community interests, state agencies, conservation interests and the general public. Meetings of OPAC are usually held in communities along the Oregon coast.

Management of the ocean shore and nearshore ocean involves a complex network of federal, state, and local authorities, some focused on particular sub-areas and some concerned with one or more resources or uses. This article will briefly describe the local, state, and federal agency responsibilities as they relate to ocean or coastal resources. The descriptions are necessarily brief and not meant to be comprehensive.

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Oregon's ocean is but a small part of the vast Pacific Ocean, which is larger than any other single feature on earth. Our ocean constitutes only part of its edge, but it is the edges of such systems that are the most productive, the most used, and the most vulnerable to disruption from human activities.

Oregon's ocean shore is an important ecological zone, providing a wide range of habitats, both terrestrial and marine, for many species of plants and animals that are specifically adapted to this unique environment. The nearshore ocean has significant ecological connections with the terrestrial component of the shore. Seabirds that forage in the ocean nest on cliffs, bluffs, and offshore rocks and islands (which are designated as a National Wildlife Refuge). Marine mammals use beaches, estuaries, rocky shores, and offshore rocks for resting, breeding, and pupping. Many species of marine fish, invertebrates, and algae live in habitats ranging from kelp reefs several miles offshore to rocky intertidal areas easily accessible at low tide. Gray whales migrate very close to the Oregon shore and are easily visible from the beach and headlands or from boats.

Two sets of forces sparked Oregon's initial ocean resource planning efforts in the 1980's, and continue to be the drivers today.

  • First, the Oregon coast and Pacific Ocean are important to Oregonians. Commercial and recreational fisheries, transportation and navigation, clean air and water and recreation are all ocean uses upon which coastal communities rely for their livelihoods and way of life. Oregonians care deeply that the coastal environment be protected and traditional use of renewable resources be maintained. Oregon's state agencies and local governments have control over many of the uses and resources along the coast and within the state's three mile territorial sea.
  • Second, national and international forces outside Oregon inject new demands for ocean and coastal resources into the present mix. Global political and economic forces, beyond the control of the state affect the price and supply of energy and natural resources and can generate interest in exploring Oregon's ocean for exploitation and use.

Overarching both these sets of forces is a growing public concern about the health of the marine environment. With global climate change on the horizon there are increasing demands for national and coastal state governments to step up efforts to protect human health, conserve ocean resouces and preserve environmental quality.

Within the Oregon Coastal Zone two geographic areas are of particular management concern. One is the ocean shore (e.g., the beach) and the other is the nearshore ocean, or Oregon’s Territorial Sea. Together, these two linear features comprise a zone of intense public interest that integrates a range of coastal resources and features that define the Oregon coast for the public. Included are sandy beaches, rocky shores, submerged rocks and reefs, and adjacent nearshore marine areas. This zone is highly attractive for development and for recreational and commercial uses, but is also rich in natural resource, aesthetic, recreational, cultural, economic, and habitat values.

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The Territorial Sea of Oregon is the body of water from the shore out to three geographical miles (nautical miles), and sometimes further offshore from the mainland because of offshore islands and rocks which push the seaward boundary further westward.