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Feds, fishermen reach understanding on wind

As the worlds of New England commercial fishing and offshore wind power continue on their collision course, federal regulators are reaching out to fishing groups to assure them of a role in future decisions on the region’s ocean resources.

On Tuesday, NOAA Fisheries and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said they have signed a 10-year “memorandum of understanding” with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance. A number of fishing industry stakeholders, such as the Fishing Partnership Support Services and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, are members of the alliance.

The memorandum, according to NOAA Fisheries, focuses on four areas of mutual interest to regulators and stakeholders – responsible planning, siting, developing offshore wind projects, and working with regional and local fishing interests – and sets out the parameters for collaboration.

The signatories, according to NOAA Fisheries, will work together to engage local and regional fishing interests in offshore wind development and identify “the most effective ways to bring fishing industry expertise and information into planning and development processes.”

The agreement also calls for building a collaborative regional research and monitoring system to “ensure decisions are based on the best available science.”

“NOAA is committed to assessing the impacts of offshore wind energy projects on these resources,” said Michael Pentony, regional administrator for the Gloucester-based Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office. “The development of offshore wind energy projects must be done in ways that support the protection and sustainable management of our marine trust resources, fishing communities and protected species.”

On March 15, Pentony wrote to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and warned the agency that its draft environmental impact report on the Vineyard Wind windfarm, being developed about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, included conclusions not supported by data. The Vineyard Wind project is planned to be the first “utility-scale” offshore wind farm in the country.

“We determined that many of the conclusory statements relating to the scale of impacts for biological and socioeconomic resources are not well supported in this document,” Pentony wrote to the bureau. “Specifically, impacts categorized as major appear under-inclusive, while impacts designated as moderate seem overly inclusive.”

Pentony also suggested other revisions for the final impact statement, including a more expansive breakdown of the project’s socioeconomic impacts, a clearer analysis of mitigation measures and the use of updated data.

The Vineyard Wind project is one of 15 active leases approved by the federal government for potential offshore wind development along the Outer Continental Shelf.

If successfully developed, the projects could generate more than 19 gigawatts of power, or enough to power more than 6.5 million homes, NOAA Fisheries said.