NEW BEDFORD – Local fishermen aired their concerns Tuesday over the proposed development of offshore wind projects in waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island to the director of the federal Bureau of Offshore Energy Management.
“There is broad consensus in favor of clean energy in the abstract sense. But it’s not that simple,” BOEM director Tommy Beaudreau told a fisheries working group meeting at City Hall. His agency recognizes that there are “well-established and abundant uses” of the area under consideration, he said. “We need to be respectful and protective of the fishing industry. That’s our responsibility.”
The bureau has already removed a fish spawning area, known as Cox’s Ledge, from the proposed area, Beaudreau said.
However, fishermen are looking for additional safeguards.
Fishery consultant Jim Kendall said that excluding Cox’s Ledge was a positive move but questioned whether enough data had been gathered on the environmental impact of the turbines.
“That’s a prime monkfish area,” he said. “If fishing productivity declines or access is restricted, we need an economic assessment of the effects on fishermen.”
Scalloper Eric Hansen said the assessment focused too much on bottom dwelling species. “You have shad, stripers, herring, tuna and whales migrating through there,” he said.
The designated area encompasses 165,000 acres in waters southwest of Martha’s Vineyard, known as the Area of Mutual Interest after Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri signed a memorandum of understanding in 2010 to collaborate in developing offshore wind.
An environmental assessment of the area was released by BOEM last month and a public comment period ends on Aug. 2.
Professor Kevin Stokesbury, a scallop researcher at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology, said he wonders how placing hundreds of turbines in the water might affect ocean currents and the distribution of larval scallops.
“It might be detrimental or it could create a bloom. We don’t know,” he said.
The fishing industry currently sets aside money every year to fund ongoing research and wind developers should be required to do the same, fishermen said.
Beaudreau emphasized that the process was still in the preliminary stage.
“Once operators tell us what they’d like to build, then we can determine more,” he said.
With a number of companies expressing interest, BOEM hopes to offer leases for sale by the end of the year after which the successful bidder will have a five-year window to complete the project.
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