NEW BEDFORD – Ed Anthes-Washburn, the director of the New Bedford Port Authority, received a constant stream of calls Wednesday afternoon after the announcements of offshore wind contracts.
Those within the fishing industry have been preparing for the day when they’d have to share the ocean with offshore wind. However, they weren’t expecting two companies to be joining them so quickly.
“I think it’s fair to say the general reaction in the fishing industry is shock,” Anthes-Washburn said.
Massachusetts was scheduled to announce its bid winner on Wednesday, which was Vineyard Wind for an 800-megawatt wind farm about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Rhode Island, unexpectedly, also offered Deepwater Wind a contract based on its pitch to Massachusetts for a 400-megawatt wind farm.
“The fishermen that we have been talking to have – from the outset – always advocated for start small and measure the impact,” Anthes-Washburn said. “So I was surprised that the project size for Vineyard Wind was as high as it was, but I didn’t even know that there could be 1,200-megawatts.”
Throughout the journey that led to Wednesday’s announcements, fishermen have voiced concerns regarding offshore wind and skepticism that their voices would be heard.
Just last month, fishermen and environmentalists – usually on the opposite ends of debate – banded together at the Waypoint Convention Room for a Vineyard Wind public comment meeting to question the effects offshore wind would have on the environment.
The sentiment continued Wednesday.
“Not all ecological changes are bad,” scalloper Eric Hansen said. “But they are changes, and they need to be studied before we determine if they’re good or bad. To jump in with both feet, the way it is, there’s no testing the waters. You’re in it for the long hall. I think it’s very unfortunate that it went with the magnitude it did.”
Hansen’s concerns revolved around transit routes for vessels through the sea of turbines, which are estimated to be 100 by Vineyard Wind and will be separated by about a mile.
Hansen said that distance needs to be doubled if not tripled.
“In heavy weather in thick fog, and multiple boats, one mile is not enough,” Hansen said. “We have limited visibility, and you’re steering by radar. To have a field of 100 targets and maybe 101 because there’s another boat. To try to discern which one is the boat and which one is the tower, it would be impossible even with that spacing.”
While the area leased by Vineyard Wind isn’t recognized as fertile ground for scallopers, concerns exist that the turbines could affect ocean currents that carry scallop larvae, according to David Frulla, a partner at Kelley Drye, which represents the Fisheries Survival Fund.
“We don’t know if that changes the pattern of the distribution of scallop larvae because the babies ride the ocean currents and settle,” Frulla said. “If they settle in good places where the bottom is hard and there’s a lot of current so they can filter feed, then they grow. If they settle in bad places, then they don’t grow.”
Multiple people interviewed by The Standard-Times on Wednesday agreed the fishery affected most by Vineyard Wind’s site is squid.
“The Vineyard Wind award for the power purchase agreement with Massachusetts was the worst-case scenario for Rhode Island, for Rhode Island commercial fishing vessels, for all squid vessels and really for the world’s calamari supply,” said Meghan Lapp, a fisheries liaison for Seafreeze Ltd, which owns vessels that harvest squid, mackerel, butterfish and herring.
Lapp said Rhode Island lands more squid than the rest of the East Coast states combined.
She said she’s spoken with some fishermen who said they land more than 50 percent of their annual income in the area sited for Vineyard Wind.
“If our concerns are not addressed at this stage, before construction, before approval, before power purchases, I think you will continue to see this occur,” Lapp said. “And I think you’re going to see the complete destruction of the oldest industry in America.”
Lapp saw irony in the fact that years ago, the federal government designed legislation to prevent international fishing vessels from harvesting in U.S. waters. Today, states are leasing lands to companies with foreign influences.
Vineyard Wind is owned by a Danish investment company.
The irony wasn’t lost on fishermen, either.
“The federal government should have no right to lease out something that has been fished continually since probably the 1500s by the Portuguese and my family when they came here in 1620. It’s called adverse possession. We’ve harvested those waters and fished those grounds for more than 400 years,” said Stephen Lozinark, who began fishing more than five decades ago. “Here comes the federal government, who wanted no part of the bottom of the ocean, the fishery or anything to do with it when the Soviets were here.”
Lapp said a lawsuit was recently filed in New York against the expansion of offshore wind in the waters of that state.
Hansen shares the same fears in the future regarding fertile scallop grounds off New York and New Jersey.
“Right now, I don’t like what’s happening there either,” Hansen said. “We’re trying to get our ducks in a row to fight the next round.”
Confidence in working with offshore wind companies was low for Hansen, Lapp and Lozinark.
Lozinark hoped since fishermen had to share fishing grounds with offshore wind, they should receive at least “15 percent” of the revenue generated. He suggested the money fund a fishing workshop for young fishermen to learn what Lapp referred to as the oldest industry in America.
It’s difficult to find confidence, though.
“This is just one more nail in the coffin,” Lozinark said.
In April, the National Coalition for Fishing Communities sent a letter signed by dozens of fishermen and organizations to Gov. Charlie Baker to emphasize their concerns regarding offshore wind. They suggested the New Bedford Port Authority act as the center facilitator in the discussion between the industries.
Anthes-Washburn, the director of the Port Authority, believes the ocean is large enough for America’s oldest industry and one of its newest.
“The Port of New Bedford is technically agnostic on what development happens in New Bedford,” Anthes-Washburn said. “We’re looking forward to working with new businesses in making sure that those businesses develop in a way that enhances our existing industries, including the fishing industry.”
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