It seems, on its face, a ludicrous mismatch.
On the one side, the legal might of the United States Coast Guard and Department of the Interior, and on the other a small bunch of fishermen armed with books of raffle tickets, bags of shellfish and, reportedly, Warren Doty’s banjo.
But the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association is utterly determined to take on the federal government over the plan to turn over the rich fishing grounds of Horseshoe Shoal to Cape Wind’s proposed wind farm. They don’t lack pluck. What they lack is money.
So tomorrow night they will hold the first of a planned series of events which they hope will raise the necessary $75,000 to pursue legal action to have the wind farm moved, or at least to have its effects on their livelihoods mitigated.
The goal for the first event, to be held at the P.A. Club, is $10,000, said the association’s president, Mr. Doty.
“We have an anonymous donor, arranged through POINT [the anti-wind power group Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow], who is going to match anything that we raise up to $5,000. So we’re hoping to raise $5,000 and match that,” he said.
The feedback from the event’s main organizer, Michele Jones, is that they already are well on their way to meeting the target. One fisherman alone, she said, already had sold $1,600 worth of raffle tickets.
Others will brave the chilly ponds for bags of oysters and other delicacies to provide a raw bar worthy of the association’s founder, Tom Osmers, she said.
Donors have given all manner of fishing equipment – waders, oilers, clam rakes, et cetera – to be raffled off. And there will be live music from Tristan Israel and Paul Thurlow as well as “special guests.”
“I have connections. There will be surprises,” said Ms. Jones, herself a musician, as well as an artist, fisherwoman and lawyer. “You might suggest that Warren Doty will give a rare public performance on the banjo.”
All of which sounds very heart-warming and community-oriented and fun, but the motivation is deadly serious. People’s livelihoods are at stake here.
“Horseshoe Shoal is the richest conch ground in the world,” said Ms. Jones.
Vineyard fishermen fear that if the wind project goes ahead, they will be denied access to the area, so they have sued the Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior to have the project stopped.
“We’re going for broke,” said Ms. Jones. “We want them to move it. But what we think will happen is they will mitigate,” she said.
So far, the federal authorities have sought to frustrate the planned legal action.
In response to the association’s lawsuit, Mr. Doty said, the Department of the Interior has said the action was premature in that final approval for the project has not been given.
This is despite the fact that a lease has been issued and Cape Wind already has entered into a contract to sell the power which would be generated.
“But the Department of the Interior says there still are several steps they have to take before giving [the lease]. We in turn have responded that this is ridiculous.
“What did the Secretary of the Interior sign when he went to Atlantic City? He signed the lease. In a big public ceremony at a wind association conference.
“Anyway, that’s where it stands right now.”
The proponents of Cape Wind have always maintained that fishermen have nothing to worry about, that they will be able to continue to catch conch after the turbines go up.
But Ms. Jones accuses them of being less than honest in their promises.
“Cape Wind says, ‘Of course you’ll be able to fish there,’ but when you speak to their insurers, they say ‘No, we won’t insure them if you fish there.’
“So they speak with forked tongue.”
Another major concern is that the Coast Guard now is planning new regulations for the operation of fishing boats working near the wind farm which will add considerable expense to their operations.
“We have always been required to have observers on our owner-operated fishing vessels, and to date it has always been our deck hands who serve as the second pair of eyes.
“Well, now the Coast Guard wants us to carry another crew member to be a dedicated observer, and not do anything else. That’s because the turbines will clutter the radar.
“There’s a huge expense in that. And huge extra danger,” she said.
The association has worked hard doing its homework on the economic threat.
“We have very carefully in our economic analysis outlined the circumstances of each and every one of the 25 boats and crews on the Island who depend on the fishery,” said Ms. Jones.
“We have all of their catch reports and all of their tax returns. We’ve documented very carefully what they stand to lose by losing this fishery.”
Almost all the conch fishermen in this part of the state worked the shoal or its margins.
“But even the men who do not fish where the wind farm is going will be impacted because they will be crowded by the others who are forced off the shoal. It’s going to affect everyone’s livelihood,” she said.
“It impacts every one of the conch fleet, pretty drastically.”
And so the association has engaged counsel, expert in fisheries matters. Their estimated cost is $75,000.
Strangely, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has led the fight against Cape Wind and spent some $20 million in the process, has not offered financial assistance to the Vineyard fishermen.
Mr. Doty said he was not concerned by that.
“We have our own legal team and we think our position is different from anybody else’s because we’re saying we have a historic use of this area, a continued and reasonable use.”
Under the federal Magnuson Stevens Act, he said, the Horseshoe Shoal area was defined as essential fish habitat, and as a result fishing there was heavily regulated.
“We are mandated to protect essential fish habitat, so there are all sorts of things you’re not supposed to do there,” Mr. Doty said.
And the fishermen were fine with that, he said.
“But it seems like someone forgot to tell Cape Wind about that.”
The fishermen’s association fundraiser is at the P.A. Club in Oak Bluffs tomorrow night, starting at 7 p.m. The suggested donation is $10. There will be a cash bar plus a delicious raw bar and fresh seafood hors d’oeuvres. All are welcome.
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