California’s fishing industries are at risk of losing access to some of their fishing grounds as the state’s waters are scouted for the development of offshore wind farms.
Ken Bates, vice president of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, is concerned about this reality and has been working to develop a solution to mitigate the outfall of the turbine versus trawler dilemma.
“[We want to] keep from losing any additional fishing grounds; that’s really what this is about,” he said. “What’s a good fishing spot today or next year might not be a good fishing spot tomorrow.”
At a recent Eureka City Council meeting, Bates asked the council to work with HFMA on developing a plan to ensure that when wind power comes to the coast of Humboldt County, fishermen don’t have the wind taken out of their sails. What Bates has in mind is called a community benefits package – an arrangement that essentially requires developers and operators to contribute to a fund for the betterment of the fishing industry as a way to counterbalance the impacts wind farming has on the fishing industry.
Bates said a wind farm with 17 turbines would remove a minimum of 17 square miles of fishing grounds, but doubts it would stop there.
If turbines are assembled in the harbor, “tow lanes,” will be established to haul the turbines out to sea and will preclude fishing, he said. He estimates the tow lanes could be about one mile wide and 20 miles long, meaning another 20 square miles are off-limits to fishing. Additionally, “transit lanes” over the underwater cables needed to route power generated offshore back to the coast will also inhibit fishing activities, he said.
“If [the turbines] are 20 miles offshore, even if [the transit lanes are] only a quarter mile wide, that’s 5 square miles of fishing grounds,” he said. “The pieces start to add up.”
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Ocean Management began accepting applications for offshore leases which would grant exclusive project rights to the leased area. The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is one of the lease applicants for an area of approximately 70 square miles off the coast of Eureka. RCEA, however, said the size of the lease represents a survey area and doesn’t necessarily reflect the intended size of the project.
They have signed a memorandum of understanding with HFMA. In an interview with the Times-Standard earlier this year, Matthew Marshall, the executive director of RCEA said the memorandum was an agreement “to mutually commit to working with each other in a cooperative and collaborative way.”
He said wildlife and commercial fishing are “two of our biggest concerns.”
Bates commended RCEA for their forthright approach to the project but recognizes that regardless of how it is done, a wind power project will reduce the amount of “real estate” fisherman have.
In the 1980s, commercial fisherman could fish along the entire coast, Bates said. But increasing regulations over time have shrunk the areas where fishing is allowed. This makes the reduction of any fishing grounds resonate even stronger today, he said.
“The thing that is interesting is the fishing grounds off California are 100 percent utilized,” he said. “Virtually every place in the ocean, somebody fishes there … when you put one of these projects in there, everybody’s going to have to move over.”
Thus fishermen like Bates are confronted with the quandary of how to navigate the wind power wave while maintaining the health of the fishing industry. For Bates, the Morro Bay Commercial Fishing Organization’s community benefits package is the answer.
Like Humboldt Bay, Morro Bay is a site of interest for offshore wind power development. They already have a standing community benefits package with several cable companies running fiber-optic cables that has contributed $350,000 to a fund each year since the early 2000’s.
Jeremiah O’Brian, the vice president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishing Organization, said that every time fishermen come to the table, they almost always are losing something.
“We had to come up with a way to satisfy as many of the people engaged in the fishing industry as we could,” he said. “Trying to come up with something to make everybody happy is a very difficult job to be tasked with.”
O’Brian said the funds contributed by the cable companies are used to pay for things like the routine maintenance of safety equipment such as lifeboats, which can cost $1,000 annually. Funds are also put toward equipment like forklifts and other harbor equipment, low-interest loans, and can be used to fund travel to fishing-related conventions and events. In general, the funds are used as needed by the fishing community in Morro Bay.
“It has afforded us a lot of things normally not available to us that we need for our industry,” he said. “By using the money that way, we are helping all of the fisherman.”
Bates credited Eureka as being a strong ally for commercial fisherman and hopes to continue working with the city and other agencies toward establishing a community benefits package that would benefit not only Eureka, but fishing communities in Trinidad and Shelter Cove as well.
“We don’t know how this might turn out when these areas leased will be taken out of production for generations,” he said.
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