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Fast-paced offshore wind developments still leave unanswered questions for fishermen

The Milford Daily News|Molly Farrar|December 26, 2022
MassachusettsUSAOffshore Wind
“What impact will that have? Well, no one's really figured that one out and if it has a negative impact,” Barrett said, “then I'm the one who’s gonna have to pay for that through reductions in my catch allocations.” Mike Pol, research director of the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance, an independent organization, said major questions about the impacts of these developments haven’t been answered. “There's been a lot of effort to identify research priorities, research questions that should be answered,” said Pol, who is based in Massachusetts. “None of them have been fully addressed.”

BOSTON — Offshore wind is coming to Massachusetts, where state leaders are looking to set a national precedent to achieve President Joe Biden’s offshore wind energy goal. But New England’s fishing industry is concerned about the rapid approval of these large offshore developments.
 
Exploration of offshore wind energy as a renewable resource started slowly at the beginning of this century, but development increased recently when Biden set a 2030 goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy early last year.
 
Vineyard Wind, located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 35 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, will be the country’s first large-scale commercial offshore wind development. It’s expected to generate 800 megawatts of …
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BOSTON — Offshore wind is coming to Massachusetts, where state leaders are looking to set a national precedent to achieve President Joe Biden’s offshore wind energy goal. But New England’s fishing industry is concerned about the rapid approval of these large offshore developments.
 
Exploration of offshore wind energy as a renewable resource started slowly at the beginning of this century, but development increased recently when Biden set a 2030 goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy early last year.
 
Vineyard Wind, located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 35 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, will be the country’s first large-scale commercial offshore wind development. It’s expected to generate 800 megawatts of energy for 400,000 homes.
 
The federal government has established seven wind lease areas for developments, and Vineyard Wind is already under construction, set to be producing energy by late next year or early 2024. And development won’t stop there, said state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, with Commonwealth Wind and Mayflower Wind joining Vineyard Wind south of Martha’s Vineyard.
 
“We really don't have a choice,” Roy said. “We need to get off our over-reliance on fossil fuels, and because of where Massachusetts is situated geographically, it's a tremendous opportunity for Massachusetts because we have some of the most robust wind in the entire contiguous United States.”
 
Fishing industry disruption
 
Fishermen are concerned about general disruptions to the industry by potentially altering fishery locations and creating currents that could have an unknown effect on fish reproduction. This could affect fishing as a sustainable food source nationally, as well as the economy in fishing communities throughout New England.
 
Roy said wind turbines in Europe have been co-existing with the fishing industry for decades, and recent legislation offers fishermen “a seat at the table” here in Massachusetts.
 
But Edward Barrett, president of the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership, who’s been in the industry for more than 45 years, said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal government agency that determines the wind leases, has “a deaf ear” to the concerns of fishermen.
 
“What impact will that have? Well, no one's really figured that one out and if it has a negative impact,” Barrett said, “then I'm the one who’s gonna have to pay for that through reductions in my catch allocations.”
 
Mike Pol, research director of the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance, an independent organization, said major questions about the impacts of these developments haven’t been answered.
 
“There's been a lot of effort to identify research priorities, research questions that should be answered,” said Pol, who is based in Massachusetts. “None of them have been fully addressed.”
 
Pol said his organization works to bridge the gap between fishermen and government organizations including BOEM, which does not regulate fisheries but is leasing the oceans for offshore wind developments.
 
“The forces that are creating (offshore wind developments) are not necessarily the forces that are really heavily involved in understanding fish and fishing,” Pol said. “The forces that are causing offshore wind development to happen are at a high level, and then there are people like ROSA and many other scientists and fishermen trying to figure out what that means on the ground level.”
 
Project oversight is split
 
Another issue is split federal oversight.
 
BOEM is an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, while the National Marine Fisheries Service reports to the U.S. Department of Commerce. These separate cabinet departments make it difficult to understand and regulate offshore wind’s effect on fishing communities.
 
BOEM declined to comment but announced in a press release that public review and comment periods for two other out-of-state offshore wind projects will open soon. These periods are when regional fishery organizations like the New England Fishery Management Council can submit their recommendations.
 
Last year, Maine prohibited offshore wind developments in its waters and is now facing developments in the Gulf of Maine — federal waters. Fishermen in Maine are also concerned about the disconnect between large offshore wind corporations and smaller, community-based industries, along with regional fishery management organizations.
 
Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, said the restrictions in Maine state waters were neither a win nor a loss, as the federal government is focused on the Gulf of Maine.
 
Martens criticized the lack of ability by NOAA Fisheries and regional fishery management organizations to provide more than just comments on BOEM’s decisions. He said fishing management processes, when successful, are very “bottom up,” with fishermen informing fish locations and catch numbers.
 
The offshore developments led by large corporations and BOEM are “top down,” which doesn’t build trust in rural communities.
 
“Those who have been managing our ocean ecosystem for marine resources, for fisheries, for fishermen, for community, they don't even have standing in the conversation about where offshore wind development is going to take place,” Martens said. “You won't have any shared bosses or shared mission or shared goals until you hit the president's office.”
 
Project development is rapid
 
Pol said the pace of development is concerning, and if developments continue as planned, there will be no time to understand the effects of Vineyard Wind’s turbines.
 
“It's not as if we're building one and then taking a breather and then building another to meet the larger goals of production,” Pol said. “There's rapidly going to be project after project after project.”
 
Pol said ROSA has worked with other scientists to compile research completed so far about the impacts of these wind turbines, which are much larger than the ones currently offshore in Europe. There’s also a shortage of scientists to research these effects, Pol said.
 
There are also safety concerns for fishermen and federal surveying vessels in wind lease areas, Pol said. These surveys allow for informed environmental review of fish numbers, habitat conservation and studying changes to the ocean due to climate change.
 
“Offshore wind development can adversely affect NOAA Fisheries’ surveys by precluding access to sampling areas, impacting statistical design, altering habitats, and interfering with survey operations,” NOAA released in a statement Dec. 5.
 
The Massachusetts legislation passed in August sets up mitigation and environmental commissions to protect fishermen in the commonwealth, Roy said, and this “new industry” could help revitalize communities affected by a reduction of fossil fuels, such as in New Bedford, which used to produce whale oil, and in Somerset, home to the last coal-fired power plant which closed in 2017.
 
Barrett said for him, regional fishery management needs more of a say over leasing areas to protect fisheries, as BOEM is the federal agency actually responsible for leasing the ocean.
 
“Federal people need to stick up for the fisheries, to stick up for an industry that actually exists rather than an industry that may possibly exist,” he said.
 
While Martens called the industrialization of the oceans one of the biggest changes to the fishing industry ever, Pol said he’s “cautiously optimistic” the fishing industry will survive due to demand and resilience.
 
“Even the federal government is saying that the impacts on commercial fishing might be moderate to large,” Pol said. “There's no clear answer. Fishing is a big, complicated industry.”
 
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: MA fishermen question impact offshore wind will have on their industry

Source:https://www.milforddailynews.…

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