During the June 8 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, several commercial fishermen called in during public comment and submitted letters requesting the board pause on approving a resolution that supported initiatives to develop wind energy.
The resolution, which supervisors pulled from the agenda, recognized the potential for renewable wind power generation and clean energy infrastructure to bring long-term economic benefits to San Luis Obispo County.
Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization President Tom Hafer submitted a letter to the board talking about the issues that fishermen face with a potential offshore wind development project area spanning 399 square miles of ocean off the Central Coast—the approved area size was announced May 25 by the White House and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara).
Hafer said the fishing community has already adapted to multiple regulations that significantly reduced their fishing area, including marine protected areas, the rock cod conservation area, and essential habitat areas, among other things.
“So we have already been squeezed into smaller and smaller areas,” he wrote.
He added that the proposed project area off the coast of Morro Bay is a prime deepwater rock cod fishing area and is also used for sablefish, albacore, tuna, deep water salmon, prawns, and swordfish.
At the meeting, SLO County 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg said the role of the county is in creating jobs, not governing federal or state waters.
She said that the county moved quickly after the area designation announcement to draft the resolution, which would eventually lead to a feasibility study of a clean energy port that could support the proposed project.
The Regional Economic Action Coalition (REACH) released a commissioned study concluding that a wind farm could generate 650 well-paying jobs and $262 million in annual economic impact for the county, however the development would need the support of a port.
Ortiz-Legg said she had been in communication with local fishermen and wanted to pull it from the agenda in order to revise it to include their concerns.
“We’re all very concerned about our commercial fishing community. I mean this is something that’s very much part of the fabric of the Central Coast culture,” she said.
If the county gets the opportunity to conduct a feasibility study, Ortiz-Legg said, she wants to include a feasibility study on the local commercial fishing industry.
“So then they have data that they can utilize when the wind farm development actually starts happening and things really start to go into play,” she said.
Retired Santa Cruz Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer is a fisheries management and science consultant, co-founder of the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries, and a federal appointee to the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Habitat Committee—he’s been heavily involved in the offshore wind conversation for the last four years.
Through his advisory work with the Morro Bay fishing community, he said they submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense stressing the need for a maximum offshore wind area.
“The fishermen are not keen at all about losing almost 400 square miles of area, but they were keen on the notion of partnering with the Department of Defense to put a limit on how much more could be taken,” Scheiblauer said.
He said the concerns about losing more fishing space in the ocean are completely rational. Those concerns are coupled with the fact that these specific stakeholders, he said, did not have a seat at the table very early on in this development conversation.
“For example [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] created a California interagency task force, but there are no [fishing] stakeholders on that task force. And the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is a federal agency, doesn’t have a seat either. The [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] does and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has a seat, but otherwise it’s dominated by other agencies,” Scheiblauer said.
There’s a lot at stake for the fishermen, as well as the marine life, but what those impacts are have yet to be studied.
“We have to go about this thoughtfully and ensure the right conversations are happening,” he said.
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