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UK fishermen offer Maine counterparts offshore wind advice

Some commercial fishermen from Great Britain are offering their Maine counterparts advice on protecting their interests, as the state’s first offshore wind development moves forward. Maine Aqua Ventus needs to secure a nearly $47 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy before it can begin construction on a 12-megawatt, two-turbine development off Monhegan Island. At a meeting in Rockland, the UK fishermen said the industry here needs to have a seat at the table with developers as the Maine project moves forward.

John Nichols fishes for cod, Dover sole and other species in the waters off the England’s Kent Coast. It’s a small fishery. And 10 years ago, Nichols says the 10 boats in his home port were all hauling in a respectable catch.

“We earned a reasonable living throughout the year. And then, one day, a couple of developers turned up on our doorstep with a chart and said, ‘This is what’s going to happen chaps! We’re going to build a windfarm right on your doorstep,'” Nichols says.

The plan called for 100 turbines, five or six miles offshore. “Unfortunate thing for us was permission had already been granted. So we weren’t involved in any process leading up to the decision of the site.”

Nichols says a turning point came when the developer of the windfarm sent a consultant to meet with the fishermen. “And he done us the greatest favor because he come along, to a meeting, sat us down and he told us how he was going to technically take no notice of fishermen, wipe ’em out,” he says.

Nichols, who’s chairman of Thanet Fishermen’s Association, says a small group quickly began canvassing captains in other nearby ports, grew it’s membership and appointed fishermen to meet regularly with developers to push the industry’s interests.

Merlin Jackson is the fishing representative for London Array, a 175-turbine development that’s currently the world’s largest fully-operational wind farm. Jackson says it’s in the interest of developers to involve fishermen early on in the construction process.

“A lot of things like being involved in the export cable route, the fishermen are very good at knowing what’s on the ground under the water,” Jackson says. “If the fishermen can tap into that, it can make for a far better relationship between the two.”

Jackson says the industry in Great Britain continues to collect data on what impact the wind farms are having, or are likely to have, on fish stocks. He says fishermen have already learned quite a bit about the species in and around the London Array site.

“We’ve managed to fish inside that one,” he says. “We have caught skates and rays inside it, which is a positive. But it would appear – the jury is still slightly out for us – but it would appear it, perhaps, has some effect on some round fish in the site.”

Jackson says having as much data about potential impacts, prior to the beginning of construction, would be critical for fishermen in Maine.

The UK fishermen gave an afternoon presentation to a handful of local fishermen at the Island Institute in Rockland. Jim Wotton, who fishes out of Friendship, believes the Maine Aqua Ventus development will end up going forward. He came to the presentation to learn how to best go about getting his many questions answered.

“The placement of the windmills – how close we’re going to be able to get to them,” he says. “Where the cable’s going to be laid that’s going to feed to the mainland – how that’s going to effect us. We’re all real concerned about what we have to lose.”

Maine Aqua Ventus isn’t slated to begin construction until 2015 at the earliest. If the UK fishermen left Wotton and his colleagues with any advice, it was to get organized and engaged now.

[audio available]