Offshore wind projects worry Northeast fishermen

A flurry of planned and proposed offshore wind projects in the Northeastern United States is causing anxiety among fishermen, who are worried that the turbines will disrupt marine life, make fishing more difficult, and harm their livelihoods.

The United States’ nascent offshore wind industry is predicted to grow rapidly in the coming years as states create and follow through on requirements to source a greater portion of their energy from clean sources, such as offshore wind.

The first offshore wind project in the U.S. – just five turbines generating 30 megawatts of electricity – came online in December 2016 near Block Island, Rhode Island. In the years to come, many more turbines are expected to crop up on the horizon.

Some fishermen worry the turbines will be too close together, making navigating difficult and possibly dangerous. Others are concerned the turbines will affect ocean currents, and the larvae that are swept up in them. And still others fret about the possibility that undersea electricity transmission will cause behavioral changes in bottom-dwelling creatures.

Earlier this month, a new lobbying group called the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance formed to represent the East Coast fishing industry in discussions over permitting of offshore wind development.

“The current, splintered approaches to engaging fishing communities in the offshore wind leasing process are ineffective and inefficient, and the result is that critical fishing industry expertise is not being considered,” Anne Hawkins, who is the group’s legal and scientific counsel, said in a statement. “Fisheries need a unified effort to ensure they get the best possible offshore outcomes.”

In May, Massachusetts selected the offshore wind developer Vineyard Wind to deliver 800 megawatts of offshore power, or enough to power more than 375,000 homes every year. Vineyard estimates that the project will lower the state’s carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year, or roughly the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from the road.

Construction could start on the project 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard as soon as 2019, and it could be operational by 2021. The project will be built in two 400-megawatt phases.

Since 2016, Vineyard Wind has met with more than 100 fishing groups and individual fishermen, Erich Stephens, the company’s chief development officer, told SeafoodSource. The company has incorporated input from fishermen, for example by laying out the turbines in a grid to provide transit paths out from New Bedford to the Great South Channel, Georges Bank, and other areas.

Different fisheries in the region will face different potential impacts from the project, Jim Kendall, a seafood consultant, fisheries representative to Vineyard Wind and former scalloper, told SeafoodSource.

The full-time scallop fleet doesn’t generally fish in the Vineyard Wind’s project area, while lobstermen generally stay further west, north or further east, in areas with more bottom structure. But squid fishermen have fished the area for years, and are the most concerned, he said.

“They have voiced their fears and concerns about how the wind areas will impact their ability to fish within the array of towers, and they are also concerned about the possible physical impacts that might be caused by the towers and the cables needed to carry the electricity to shore,” Kendall said.

Other companies are also eyeing offshore wind projects.

In May, Rhode Island selected Deepwater Wind, which developed the Block Island project, to provide another 400 megawatts of offshore wind. And in April, the company announced a proposal for a 200-megawatt project between Montauk, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Bay State Wind, a partnership between Ørsted, the Danish developer of 27 percent of the world’s offshore wind capacity, and Eversource, the largest electric transmission company in New England, has ambitious plans for the region. Bay State is aiming to develop 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind in New England and New York in the next 10 years.

Currently, the company is preparing to seek state and federal approval for projects, including by gathering information on the ocean floor, marine environment, and wind speeds. The company is also reaching out to fishermen, and has formed a Bay State Wind Fishermen’s Advisory Panel.

“Offshore wind is a brand new industry for the U.S. and fishermen are understandably wary — and for good reasons,” John Williamson, the fishery liaison officer for Bay State Wind, told SeafoodSource. “However, we are committed to partnering with fishing communities in pursuing strategies which minimize impacts and allow the two industries to coexist and thrive.”

To make offshore wind projects work for everyone, “communication is key,” added Williamson, who has had more than 1,000 individual conversations with fishermen and fishery leaders in the last two years.

“Where Ørsted has been most successful in building offshore wind facilities which are fully accessible to fishermen, and where problems are minimal, have been in communities where fishermen are organized,” he said. “We want to address issues before they become problems.”


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