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Maine fishing industry gears up to protest pace of wind development

Leaders in the lobster fishing industry are planning a “Protect the Gulf of Maine” rally in Augusta next week to highlight issues related to the development of offshore wind power.

“The fishermen are not opposed to renewable energy,” Virginia Olsen, a fourth-generation Stonington lobster fisherman who sits on the Maine Lobstering Union-Local 207 executive board, told Mainebiz by email. “But we are fighting for our iconic Maine way of life; not just our fishing heritage, but our communities, our neighbors, our future.”

The rally is scheduled for Wednesday, April 28, at the Augusta Civic Center, with guest speakers slated to talk at 10 a.m. They include Olsen; Maine State Senate President Troy Jackson; State Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (District 136); Julie Rabinowitz on behalf of former Gov. Paul LePage; Vinalhaven Town Manager Andrew Dorr; Lobster 207 CEO Mike Yohe; Shucks Maine Lobster CEO John Hathaway; Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Director of Community Programs Monique Coombs; and fishermen Christopher McIntire of Orr’s Island, Jim Hanscom of Mount Desert Island, Richard Larrabee Jr. of Stonington, Clint Collamore of Waldoboro and Gerry Cushman of Port Clyde.

As the rally’s lead organizer, Olsen said she’s not sure how many participants to expect. However, she’s heard interest both from fishermen and the general community.

“We hear every day of more people who are coming,” she said. “I expect there to be a few hundred people.”

Word has been spreading by social media, word of mouth and signs posted along the coast. Planning meetings were held last weekend in Trenton, Harpswell and Warren.

Local 207 is part of the Protect the Gulf of Maine coalition.

The group calls offshore wind development “a threat to the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and our way of life in Maine.” It asks the Governor’s Energy Office to complete an offshore wind “road map” before bringing large-scale projects to the Gulf of Maine.

A demonstration project with one turbine is scheduled to be installed off Monhegan Island and a larger project of up to 12 turbines is in the pipeline off Maine southern coast. A general oval-shaped location has been determined and the state is in the process of identifying a specific site.

Last month, fishermen in nearly 100 boats from the midcoast gathered in waters near Monhegan to protest the development of offshore wind energy infrastructure.

“Fishermen are concerned these research arrays, being new technology, will use the Gulf of Maine – which has been feeding the world for hundreds of years – as a research lab,” said Olsen.

Fishermen are also concerned about the potential proliferation of wind arrays in the middle of fishing zones, she added.

“We just want to make sure we have a path forward,” she said.

In a separate information document, New England Aqua Ventus, which is developing the demonstration project near Monhegan, said offshore wind will contribute to Maine’s clean energy and climate objective to meet 80% of the state’s electricity needs with renewables by 2030, with offshore wind supplying a portion of that power.

“The first step in that direction is deployment of the demonstration turbine near Monhegan,” said NEAV.

“The deployment of additional wind turbines elsewhere in the Gulf of Maine, including the research array proposed by the Mills administration, would multiply these environmental benefits. Through science and research, the array will determine how best to protect the Gulf of Maine’s ecology, marine users and Maine’s overall interests as the federal government and other states plan commercial offshore wind projects in the gulf.”