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Offshore wind fight shifts to New York Bight as scallop industry calls for changes

Saying the proposed offshore wind lease areas in the New York Bight need to be reconsidered to reduce the impact to scallops and scallop fishermen, industry advocates and scallop fishermen called for change during an online call with federal officials July 20.

“The Atlantic sea scallop fishery is the most valuable federally managed fishery in the United States, worth more than $570 million in ex vessel value and $746 million in total processed value in 2019,” according to the Fisheries Survival Fund.

Barnegat Light and Long Beach, N.Y. combined for a total of $19.4 million in the value of scallops landed, according to data from New England Fishery Management Council’s scallop framework adjustment between 2010 and 2017. For 2021, the NEFMC’s scallop update found Atlantic scallops make up the vast majority of landed value in eight of the largest East Coast fishing ports and over 40 percent in four other areas.

During the July 20 call with officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, industry representatives highlighted the need for a buffer zone to protect the “most valuable scallop area in the Mid-Atlantic and expressed concern over the environmental and fisheries impacts of offshore wind development,” according to a Fisheries Survival Fund press release issued July 26.

“Damage to the scallop industry will have far reaching consequences for working families in ports through the Atlantic Coast. The harm will extend beyond fishermen and processing plant employees – many of whom are recent immigrants – to fuel docks, marine equipment suppliers, restaurants and markets,” the Fisheries Survival Fund statement reads, noting throughout the entire coast, scallops were valued over $500 million, or half a billion dollars, in processed value in 2019. “This does not include the additional economic value added by the remainder of the supply chain until the product ultimately reaches consumers in markets and restaurants.”

Commercial fishermen on the call said a 5-mile buffer zone between the southeast edge of the Hudson South lease area and the Hudson Canyon access area would help protect the latter area from negative environmental effects of offshore wind development.

“The HCAA has added well over $2 billion in revenues to coastal communities in the last two decades,” according to the Fisheries Survival Fund, which cited a scientific paper whose lead author is a federal scallop scientist.

As with concerns when proposed offshore wind development was planned off the coast of Long Beach Island, concerns among the commercial scallop fishermen include potential environmental threats to marine ecosystems.

“The assembly of turbines displaces large amounts of sediment on the seafloor, creating scour and sediment plumes that can interfere with scallop growth and filter-feeding processes,” the Fisheries Survival Fund statement reads. “The turbine arrays themselves can disrupt ocean currents and thus scallop larval flow and settlement.”

Additionally, wind farms tend to create habitats that attract filter-feeding species, such as mussels. Those species vie for the available phytoplankton, altering the biological makeup of the area and interfering with sustainability of the resource.

“Young scallops also face increased predation from marine life known to proliferate in wind energy installations, such as starfish and moon snails,” according to the Fisheries Survival Fund. “Seismic activity involved in wind farm site assessment activities has also been shown to damage scallops.”

Representatives from the scallop industry and the Port of New Bedford (Mass.) argued BOEM is more responsive to concerns from wind developers, the military and commercial shipping groups than to the fishermen. Online meetings, they said, exclude many fishermen who are not accustomed to online meeting platforms.

“While the Fisheries Survival Fund appreciates that new jobs in coastal communities and economic growth could accompany offshore wind development, the benefits should not come at the expense of those who have historically relied on the scallop fishery to provide for their families,” the organization said, adding it hopes to “engage in meaningful, honest discussions with both developers and the BOEM to mitigate the impacts while preserving access and protecting the livelihoods of fishermen throughout the East Coast.”

Established in 1998 to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Atlantic Sea scallop fishery, the Fisheries Survival Fund includes a majority of full-time scallop fishermen from Maine to North Carolina.