Fishermen fear encroachment from offshore wind projects

Source: By Associated Press • Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2021

STONINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Fishermen in Connecticut and along the northeastern U.S. coastline who have struggled to survive in the face of regulations meant to rebuild stocks of cod, flounder and other species say they are facing another threat — offshore wind projects.

Some say they are not opposed to green energy projects, but that they want more input on the projects’ potential effect on their business.

“Just don’t put it on prime fishing grounds,” Joe Gilbert, who owns four scallop and fishing boats based at Stonington’s Town Dock, told The Day. “We’re racing forward with all these projects, with no science. This has never been done on this scale any place on earth.”

Gilbert and others said many of the projects seek to lease large tracts of ocean bottom in prime fishing areas. That can cause additional problems when turbines are spaced too close together, making it difficult for boats towing gear to stay apart from each other, especially in bad weather.

It’s another challenge for an industry that has had to adapt and reinvent itself over the years due to strict regulations on how much they can catch. Now, fishermen feel their voices aren’t being heard in the offshore wind debate.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a national coalition of fishing industry members, last month sent a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the body overseeing the projects, charging the current permitting process for offshore wind projects “provides no meaningful opportunity to include the needs of sustainable seafood harvesting and production in strategies to mitigate climate change.”

The alliance alleged the federal government “did not even consider any mitigation measures” it proposed before approving the Vineyard Wind I project last week, the country’s first major offshore wind project that calls for erecting 62 turbines south of Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management told The Day the fishing community can communicate its concerns directly during the standard environmental review process. Stephen Boutwell added that the bureau also requires companies leasing ocean bottom tracts to develop communications plans and hire liaisons to have discussions with fishermen.

Vineyard Wind developers have agreed to pay $37.7 million to commercial fishermen as compensation for future losses, The Day reported.