As owner of Empire Fisheries, one of Connecticut’s largest commercial fishing companies, I testified recently at a hearing before the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee on two bills (SB 875 and HB 7156) in support of the state’s plan to procure clean energy from offshore wind turbines in federal waters.
While in support of the bills, I cautioned, as many other fishermen have, that any authorization from the state for procuring wind energy must first guarantee protections that keep fishermen, fish and the ecosystems they rely on, safe. At a minimum, the legislation should require that before any procurement authorization, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner consider the latest science at the time of a proposal, to avoid or mitigate impacts to wildlife, natural resources, ecosystems and traditional or existing water dependent uses, like commercial fishing. The DEEP should start collecting information about the needs of fishing fleets and develop criteria for the wind energy developers to ensure that this traditional water dependent use is not compromised.
We need to first find the balance that protects our fisheries and fishermen to ensure that one renewable resource, wind energy, does not displace another, fishing.
This balance is necessary because wind energy companies are moving ahead quickly with their plans without adequate studies on the effects that these hundreds of structures and miles of transmission cables will have on the offshore marine environment. Among our concerns are the effects of increased noise levels in the marine environment and electromagnetic fields from energy transmission cables. The presence of these new conditions may harm fish and other marine life and disrupt mating behavior.
Additionally, there will likely be dramatic changes to the seafloor, in wind patterns, currents, and the mixing of cold and warm water. This could disrupt the unique and highly productive area known as the Cold Pool, found in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem on which our fishermen rely. The Cold Pool forms naturally due to low levels of water mixing in the area. The presence of so many turbines threatens to increase the amount of mixing and disrupt this natural and important phenomena. Changes in currents could also lead to the displacement of many valuable species, including Atlantic Sea Scallops.
With wind turbines sited so close together and transmission cables crisscrossing the seafloor, the risk to fishermen safety, the threat of snagging gear on a cable or a boat hitting a wind turbine is great. Fishermen are unable to use highly needed radar in these areas because spinning turbine blades create “scatter,” or feedback, on radar screens, preventing them from discerning what is nearby. The wind companies have proposed spacing of one mile between turbines. However, a fishing industry consensus agrees that anything less than two miles apart is unworkable.
Even simply crossing the wind energy areas to access alternate fishing grounds poses a problem for fishermen, especially those from Connecticut. Unless the wind companies can allow us adequate transit lanes, which need to be, at minimum, four miles wide for safe passage of all vessel traffic, fishermen will need to steam around them. This will add many hours, if not days – and costs – to fishing trips. This is particularly detrimental to the state’s scallop fleet, regulated by rules defined by “days at sea,” spent fishing.
Potential, additional problems are numerous. We can avoid or mitigate them by working together with the developers. What we really need, however, is for the State of Connecticut to actively represent the interests of Connecticut fishermen against this rush to build wind farms.
Connecticut’s fishing industry is a vibrant economic contributor to the state and a major employer. However, the consensus of fishermen in general is that they are being underserved in the process of siting these projects. If Connecticut does not act now, we may lose another renewable resource – Connecticut’s fisheries and the institutional knowledge of our fishermen – for good.
Joseph Gilbert is the owner of Empire Fisheries in Milford and a board member of the Fisheries Survival Fund and the Connecticut Maritime Coalition.
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