The day – Commercial fishermen say they are being ignored in wind power projects
Stonington – Over the past three decades, Town Dock fishermen and their northeastern counterparts have struggled to stay afloat amid strict regulations aimed at restoring depleted stocks of cod, plaice and other species .
Some have diversified, turning to so-called underutilized species like squid and whiting to supplement their declining income, while others have retired or gone to work on the land.
But now that many species have rebounded and government regulators are increasing the amounts of fish they can land, fishermen face a new threat: offshore wind energy projects.
Anglers such as Joe Gilbert, who owns four scallop fishing boats and based in Town Dock, say their concerns are being ignored by federal officials who are leasing huge swathes of the ocean floor off the north coast. -is to wind energy companies. Some of these bottom areas are also areas where fishing boats land their catches and transit.
âA lot of people have sacrificed a lot to rebuild a sustainable fishery and keep Stonington a vibrant fishing community,â Gilbert said one day as he sat at Town Dock.
And he stressed that he and the other fishermen are not opposed to green energy projects.
âDon’t put it on top-notch fishing grounds,â he said. We are running forward with all these projects, without any science. It has never been done on such a scale anywhere on earth. “
The turbines are intended for relatively shallow areas, which are positioned to maximize the full potential of wind power. Some of these areas also attract fish.
Gilbert added that it made no sense to replace one sustainable renewable industry, like fishing, with another.
Longtime Town Dock fisherman Bob Guzzo said the federal government has ceded land that fishermen have used to feed people for more than 300 years.
“I would like to pass this on to someone else who wants to go fishing,” he said.
Gilbert said that instead of federal regulators integrating fishermen’s concerns into rental contracts for various wind power projects, fishermen are encouraged to negotiate individually with each company. This makes it easy for companies to ignore fishermen, he said, and it is also time consuming for fishermen who need to work.
âIt’s just a process of checking all the boxes,â he said of the companies speaking with the fishermen. “We are becoming collateral damage.”
The coalition takes the floor
Last month, members of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, or RODA, a national coalition of members of the fishing industry, boycotted a meeting with a federal task force in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is considering selling auctioned 800,000 acres of New York Bight – shallow waters south of Long Island and east of New Jersey – to potential wind farm operators. RODA said its members feel they are not being listened to.
On April 6, RODA said 1,665 members of fishing communities from each coastal state in the United States had submitted a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, calling for a transparent national planning process. and balanced for the development of offshore wind power.
RODA said that “the development of offshore wind poses direct conflicts with fisheries and the current licensing process does not provide any significant opportunity to include the needs for sustainable seafood harvesting and production in the climate change mitigation strategies “.
Just before the federal government last week approved the Vineyard Wind I project – the country’s first large-scale offshore wind farm – RODA members called on BOEM to adopt reasonable and consistent mitigation measures. requested for the project. This project requires the construction of 62 turbines off Martha’s Vineyard, which will generate electricity for 400,000 homes.
After the approval, RODA said that “BOEM did not even consider mitigation measures recommended by RODA or by fishery professionals, scientists or natural resource managers, despite clearly defined requests to them. disposition.”
âOver the past decade, fishermen have attended offshore wind meetings whenever requested and have produced reasonable requests to be met with silence,â said Anne Hawkins, Managing Director of RODA. “From this silence emerges now unilateral action and a clear indication that those in authority care more about multinational companies and energy policy than about our environment, national food sources or American citizens.”
The Vineyard Wind I turbines were spaced 1 nautical mile apart after commercial fishermen and environmentalists expressed concerns. Vineyard Wind developers have also agreed to pay commercial fishermen $ 37.7 million as compensation for future losses.
Guzzo, however, said some fishermen feel it is more important that they can continue to land fish and feed people, than to raise money from developers or the government.
In addition to the leases being considered for the New York Bight, seven leases have also been granted for the waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and southeast of Block Island, which has its own small offshore wind farm to help power the island. Four of the leases relate to the Ãrsted / Eversource cooperative, which is developing State Pier in New London as a staging area for their projects.
BOEM says it listens to fishermen
In an email to The Day, BOEM spokesperson Stephen Boutwell said the agency “works with all users and stakeholders of the ocean, including state and local governments, coastal communities, the U.S. military, fishing and maritime communities, and tribal governments throughout the offshore wind development process. to avoid or reduce the potential impacts of offshore wind energy development. “
As for complaints from fishermen that they need to discuss their concerns with the various wind companies, Boutwell said that while fishermen are encouraged to discuss their concerns directly with tenants before the lessee submits a plan to BOEM, this is not a requirement. do this. He said that, throughout BOEM’s environmental review process, the fishing community has the opportunity to directly comment on the impacts the project may have on their business. He added that BOEM requires tenants to develop fisheries communication plans and hire liaison officers to talk to fishermen.
âThe objective of the BOEM area identification process is to identify the offshore locations that appear to be the most suitable for the development of wind energy taking into account coexistence with ocean users. As part of this process, BOEM has removed conflict areas from the highest point of view, âthe agency said last. month.
The agency also plans to undertake an environmental review, with public participation, on these areas of federal waters with a view to the possible rental of offshore wind turbines.
What are the concerns?
Fishermen have a long list of safety and environmental concerns besides the fact that the turbines are located in some of their main fishing grounds.
Chief among them is that some of the projects require the turbines to be spaced 0.67 miles to 1 mile apart, far less than the 2 mile spacing and the 4 mile wide transit lanes which fishermen estimate. It’s necessary. Gilbert explained that it is extremely difficult for boats to stay separated from each other within 0.67 miles while towing their equipment, especially in bad weather.
âWe’re ready to share the ocean,â he said, âwe just want them to intelligently place (the turbines) in the needs of a historic and proud industry.
Gilbert said in bad weather when fishermen try to return home, the corridors are not wide enough to transit safely. Additionally, he said the rotating blades create “radar scatter” that can mask the presence of nearby ships.
Guzzo agreed with the potential radar issues and said transit lanes across the bay are busy with ships entering and exiting New York City.
Boutwell said turbine spacing and layout are reviewed on a project-by-project basis, and each project must submit a shipping safety risk assessment, which is developed based on Coast Guard guidelines. The Coast Guard also participates in the review of project plans.
When asked if efforts are being made to move the turbines out of fishing and transit areas, Mr Boutwell said BOEM is working with the Coast Guard and other maritime stakeholders to examine the impacts on shipping. and fishing at all stages of project rental and development. Prior to the charter, he said BOEM is removing areas that overlap with shipping and transit lanes of ships and avoiding areas with higher volumes of vessel traffic. After leases are issues, he said BOEM encourages developers to work with the Coast Guard and other stakeholders to develop their shipping safety risk assessment as early as possible. For example, he said BOEM had withdrawn over 900,000 acres of ocean floor from consideration for rental in New York Bight.
Gilbert said scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service also expressed concern that the turbines would disrupt the stratification of the water column, which is critical to the ecosystem of fishing grounds. He said the turbines also generate fog by mixing cold and hot air, creating another safety concern.
The hundreds of turbines planned by Ãrsted / Eversource for their four projects south of Martha’s Vineyard are 873 feet tall, just 190 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower, with blades 722 feet in diameter.
Guzzo said he was concerned that the turbines would wipe out fish such as winter flounder from traditional fishing grounds.
Gilbert said the piles of rocks around the turbines also create attractive habitat for black bass, a voracious predator that feasts on juvenile lobsters, crabs, clams and shrimp. Lobster catches have already fallen in southern New England in recent decades due to warming waters, declining oxygen levels and polluted runoff. So while amateur fishermen and charter boat captains are big fans of the tasty sea bass, commercial lobsters and shellfish fishermen are not.
Guzzo said he was also concerned about oil leaks from the turbines, which he said he saw with the turbines off Block Island.
Gilbert also criticized state and federal lawmakers for not “being strong for us” on the issue. He said the fisherman was facing a tough road because environmentalists and lawmakers want to see more renewable energy projects.