The Bay SAMP: An Ecosystem-based Management Plan

The Bay SAMP: An Ecosystem-based Management Plan

By Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

Narragansett Bay is more than 700 billion gallons of saltwater sandwiched between the West Bay and East Bay. It’s a central piece of Rhode Island’s identity, and it’s the engine that has kept the state running for centuries. A resource this important requires thoughtful, detailed regulation and management to ensure that its many uses do not negatively affect our right to enjoy a swimmable, fishable, healthy Narragansett Bay, accessible to all. Countless federal, state, and local laws and regulations govern activities in and around the Bay. Sometimes, certain geographic areas present unique challenges that require separate planning and regulations from an ecological viewpoint. Enter the Special Area Management Plan.

The geographic area covered by the Bay SAMP in red

Special Area Management Plans, or SAMPs, are ecosystem-based management plans designed to address specific regional issues. They are authorized under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and managed in Rhode Island by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which works collaboratively with affected communities and the public in SAMP creation. Rhode Island’s SAMPs include the Metro Bay SAMP, Salt Ponds Region SAMP, and the Shoreline Change (Beach) SAMP. Each contains a framework for understanding and dealing with unique issues within the SAMP’s jurisdiction. 

The Bay SAMP

Currently, the CRMC is working to develop the Narragansett Bay SAMP. The Bay SAMP, as it is commonly referred to, is intended to bring together the best science, data, and management practices to guide the growing list of uses in Narragansett Bay, including support to the offshore wind industry, aquaculture, and others. While climate change and improved water quality affect the industries and activities that use the Bay’s resources, the Bay SAMP intends to fill any knowledge gaps and develop the necessary guidance and standards for these emerging uses.

Save The Bay’s role

Save The Bay closely monitors the development of SAMPs in Rhode Island due to their obvious impact on Narragansett Bay. We’re happy to be part of the Bay SAMP working groups and stakeholder meetings, and to provide our expertise in the development and review of regulatory language. The Bay SAMP process began in 2018 with the development of policy and standards for the siting of transmission cables supporting the offshore wind industry. This part of the SAMP has already proven its importance as wind developers have submitted plans for cables that will transit through Narragansett Bay. 

The proposed West Passage cable corridor developed through the Bay SAMP process

In recent months Save The Bay has participated in efforts to develop the aquaculture portion of the Bay SAMP. Improved water quality in the Bay has led to an increase in aquaculture activities, mostly consisting of oyster farms. The Bay SAMP Aquaculture Element is working to define geographic areas that can and should support aquaculture, including an examination of cumulative impacts and competing public uses. 

The future of the Bay SAMP

As the Bay SAMP process continues to move forward, public involvement will remain critically important, and members of Save The Bay’s policy team will continue to participate and carefully monitor developments. We encourage anyone interested to learn more through CRMC’s website at, and consider participating in working groups or by submitting written comments.