WILDWOOD – U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd) brought the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to the Wildwoods Convention Center Sept. 16 to hear the concerns of the fishing industry and other shore activists regarding a proposed wind farm off the South Jersey coast.
Chaired by U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), the pair listened as fishermen and others said they felt left out of the process that could affect the local industry, natural resources, and the economy.
Van Drew emphasized bringing local fishermen to the table when wind farms are in the planning stages.
“I am an advocate of wind energy. I have a windmill on my property. However, the first rule I apply is do no harm to the environment, the ratepayers and the fishing industry. This is the livelihood of a lot of people down here. The fishermen must be consulted,” Van Drew said.
Thirteen witnesses, divided into three panels, were each given five minutes to voice their concerns before being questioned by the subcommittee.
Many were quick to point out how the local fishing industry could be negatively impacted.
Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), said rushing into the permitting of wind farms could prove disastrous.
“There are few studies that show how the wind industry would impact offshore fisheries. There is potential for catastrophic impacts. We need a collaborative effort to obtain that data and fishermen must be part of the process,” she said.
Other fisheries experts on the panel predicted the wind farms would negatively impact the industry, regardless of scientific studies.
“The wind farm proposed by Orsted is right in our current fishing grounds, traditional fishing grounds. We’ll be forced to fish in areas we’ve never fished before. Offshore wind farms pose a threat to the fishing industry,” said Peter Hughes, director, Sustainability for Atlantic Cape Fisheries in Cape May.
Orsted is the Boston-headquartered company permitted to build the first wind farm off the New Jersey coast, which would be the second farm in the nation. The other is located off Rock Island, R.I.
Frederick Zalcman, head of government affairs, North America for Orsted, said the company acknowledges the need to include the fishing industry in the process.
“We are not simply paying lip service to the fishermen. We have taken steps and continue to take steps to make them part of the process,” Zalcman said.
Panelists pointed to the job creation, economic impact and the positive impact on climate change and reducing the carbon footprint of the Garden State.
Vicki Clark, president, Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, noted the impact the wind industry could have on the area.
“We suffer from cyclical employment in Cape May County. The benefits of having the wind energy here would be year-round jobs, good-paying jobs, but we cannot interrupt the vital fishing industry and the economic impact of it to the economy. I believe the two can coexist and I believe members of the fishing industry need to be made a part of the process,” said Clark.
Lowenthal summed up the meeting, saying wind is important to save the planet, however, preserving the ocean and the fishing industry is vital, too.
“Our nation needs to move away from fossil fuels to clean energy. Wind energy has the potential to produce two times the amount of energy used in the U.S. We must make sure that in implementing wind energy, we do it responsibly, protecting the fishing industry, the environment, habitat, and wildlife. I believe they can coexist,” Lowenthal explained.
After the hearing, wind farm proponent Capt. Paul Eidman said the recreational fisherman is often overlooked in the process.
“We have found the species the recreational fisherman is after are not affected by the wind farms, and offshore fish like sea bass and mahi actually use the platforms as habitat. We need to make sure the agencies collecting data have full access to the wind farm areas because they use the data to set quotas,” said Eidman. “It’s all about getting everyone involved.”
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