Fishermen Missing One Big Thing in Opposition to Offshore Wind

Map of Vineyard Wind Project. Image via BOEM.

This post is an editorial by Seafoodnews.com editor John Sackton. Seafoodnews is a subscription site, and the editorial has been cross-posted here with permission.

A broad coalition of Northeast fishermen, suppliers, and shore-based industries has written a letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker opposing development of offshore wind in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The letter makes two good points but misses one big thing.

The letter says that under current plans, there is no provision for the necessary research and monitoring to determine whether a large scale offshore wind project has any significant marine impacts.  This is a legitimate concern.

Historically opposition to oil drilling has also involved the well-known dangers that seismic testing can harm fish stocks, and also economic studies have been done on the potential impact of oil spills at the heart of major fishing grounds.

Wind power is far less dangerous to fishing than oil drilling, but the advocates are right in insisting that research plans be funded and approved.

The second thing the letter signers got right is the lack of coordination, and the fact that fishing interests are expected to somehow deal simultaneously with three different offshore developers, and there is no single place where the overall impact of all the projects might be considered.

Further, they point out there is little coordination among the proposed projects in securing fishing industry input.  This is also an area that can be fixed with better government oversight, that requires overall coordination with the fishing industry.

But here is the one big thing the letter signers got wrong:  We need wind power.

The single biggest revenue loss to fishermen in New England has not come from overfishing, but from climate change.  All the fishery management plans in the world for cod, our most iconic species, mean nothing if global warming forces that species out of New England waters.

We are at a crossroads today where there is a binding UN agreement to keep global temperature rise to 2 degrees C or less.  Under current energy trajectories, that target may well be missed.

We are already locked in to several more degrees of warming in the Gulf of Maine, which has already warmed faster than 95% of other ocean areas.  Unless this is slowed or reversed within the lifetimes of our grandchildren there simply will not be the same New England marine industry.  We can kiss lobsters and cod goodbye; we may lose scallop productivity; groundfish will revert to more southern species, and more diseases will hit fisheries like clams and oysters.

In short, the loss of a small area of ocean bottom to mobile fishing gear is not the worst problem we are facing.

The arguments about offshore wind would be much more believable if the letter writers also acknowledged these facts.

The proposed area for leasing is part of 742,000 acres offshore Massachusetts.  The proposed area is the largest in federal waters and will nearly double the federal offshore acreage available for commerical-scale wind energy projects

The area chosen is one of the least important for commercial fishing.  Obviously fish are mobile, and at times of the year species such as squid migrate through these waters.  But the plan of the wind farms takes up only a small portion of waters where squid is seasonally harvested.

The area off Massachusetts has some of the best wind dynamics for wind energy on the Atlantic Coast.

We fully support industry efforts to work with wind project developers and the government to mitigate fisheries impacts and to make sure we understand the costs of tradeoffs we might be making,

But we don’t support the idea that the fishing industry must oppose all wind-power projects as a matter of principle.  This is NIMBYism at its worst, and is not going to survive public scrutiny at a time when the transition away from fossil fuels is a social necessity.

You can read the fishermen’s letter to Governor Baker here.


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