NEW BEDFORD – Gov. Charlie Baker wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Thursday to ask him to consider eliminating the highest-priority fishing areas from future leases for offshore wind, particularly in the New York Bight, a heavily fished area south of Long Island.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has begun evaluating potential locations in the New York Bight for wind.
“Some of the areas under consideration for leasing represent very productive and high-value grounds for fishermen from Massachusetts and other states,” Baker said in the letter.
He cited an assessment of fish landings earlier this year by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils that calculated the value of fishing within the proposed areas at more than $344 million from 2012 to 2016.
“Views of the fishing industry must be valued, which has been fundamental to the successful process in Massachusetts,” he said.
New Bedford fishermen and city officials expressed serious concerns about the New York locations in a meeting with BOEM in September. At the time, vessel owner Eric Hansen said 40 to 50 percent of the scalloping grounds fished by New Bedford scallopers are within that area.
Hansen met with the Department of the Interior, BOEM and congressional staffers in Washington D.C. in the middle of October.
“I know we’re being heard. I haven’t seen reactions yet,” Hansen said Friday. “I know BOEM knows we’re there, and we have some strong, valid concerns. And we do contribute an awful lot economically to the region, too. That is speaking volumes, too.”
The governor noted that in the previous lease process off the coast of Massachusetts, more than 60 percent of the initial area was removed. At 1.7 million acres, the locations in the New York Bight are plenty large enough to meet New York’s goals while avoiding key fishing zones, he said.
David Frulla, an attorney who represents the scallopers via the Fisheries Survival Fund, praised the “tailoring” of the Massachusetts locations and said he appreciates Baker urging BOEM to take similar action off New York.
“A lot of that tailoring was designed to address where scallop beds are,” he said. “Some of the most productive areas were saved.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell met with Baker over the summer to enlist his support for local advocacy regarding the New York Bight.
“I am grateful for the governor’s direct outreach to Interior Secretary Zinke to voice these concerns,” Mitchell said Friday in an email. “We will continue to work with the governor and our congressional delegation to ensure that the interests of the fishing industry are heard loudly and clearly in connection with the siting of new wind energy areas.”
BOEM’s New York Bight Task Force meets Nov. 28 in New York City.
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