There’s a lot of buzz in New Bedford these days about the offshore wind industry — and for good reason.
Blowing in with the massive turbines will be the promise of good-paying jobs; new activity along the waterfront; and even the prospect that SouthCoast could become a training center for those interested in offshore wind careers.
Indeed, New Bedford could once again become the city that lights the world (or at least much of Massachusetts) with clean, renewable energy.
Amid the hubbub, however, we can’t lose track of the industry that has made New Bedford the most lucrative seafood port in the nation for 17 years in a row. The city’s hard-working fishermen — beset by changing regulations, dwindling catches, competition from foreign fleets and the ever-present hardship of storm-tossed seas — must be given serious consideration in any changes that could affect the waters where they ply their trade.
If both industries are to thrive together in the marine economy, they must communicate openly in the months and years ahead.
At a Feb. 12 meeting with wind energy developers, some members of the fishing community expressed frustration that little progress has been made to date.
But “it’s not too late,” noted David Pierce of the state Division of Marine Fisheries. And thankfully, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has structured its wind application process to give fishermen a voice.
Each company bidding for a wind-energy contract must have a representative to the fishing industry, as well as a fisheries liaison. The fisheries liaison for DeepWater Wind, for instance, is longtime fisherman Rodney Avila, while the city’s Harbor Development Commission is acting as the company’s fishing representative.
HDC Director Edward C. Anthes-Washburn explained the importance of keeping fishermen engaged. There are legitimate concerns, he said, and “we’re committed to making sure they (fishermen) understand what’s happening.”
Anthes-Washburn admitted such details as precise turbine locations have been scarce, but much more information will be forthcoming throughout the design phase. And fishermen will need to make their concerns known before construction, he said.
Jim Kendall, owner of New Bedford Seafood Consulting and the designated fishermen’s representative for Vineyard Wind, articulated some of the issues:
Larger boats traveling to and from Georges Bank and other Atlantic fishing grounds use a route that stretches from south of Nomans Land Island (below Martha’s Vineyard) to just south of Davis’s South Shoal (southeast of Nantucket). The area is often thick with fog, and radar can become unreliable in an area surrounded by wind turbines, Kendall explained. So fishermen are hoping for a straight route through any turbines, and not be forced to navigate a slalom course.
Kendall also said there are concerns about fishing gear. Cables that connect turbines to each other and ultimately to shore will be buried at least 6 feet below the ocean floor, except for where there is ledge or other obstacles. In that case, he said, a heavy covering called a “mattress” is placed over the cable to keep it in place. But fishing gear can become tangled with the covering, Kendall said. There needs to be a reliable process for fishermen to make claims for possible damages, he said.
Also, some of the designated Massachusetts wind energy area is popular for small fishing boat owners, who harvest conch, lobster squid, mackerel and butterfish. For those fishermen, any loss of fishing grounds will hurt.
The Standard-Times understands fishermen’s concerns, and we’re encouraged to know that the industry and its regulators are committed to involving fishermen in the decision-making process.
In an email response to questions, a BOEM spokesperson said the environmental review has yet to begin, and fishermen will have a voice in that process.
BOEM has been meeting with fishermen since as early as 2011, the spokesman said, and many sensitive fishing spots were removed from the originally proposed wind energy areas, based on the comments received. When the adjustments were made, the entire wind turbine area was reduced by more than half.
Moving forward, the participation of fishermen will be vital.
Anthes-Washburn says that engaging fishermen and developing trust is more important right now than trying to solve any single issue. “We want to make sure the fishing industry doesn’t get steamrolled.”
The Standard-Times certainly doesn’t want that to happen either. And we encourage fishermen, wind turbine developers and regulators to hear each other out in the meetings to come.
Both industries are key to New Bedford’s future.