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Fishermen protest upcoming bid for wind farms in New York Bight

With the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management preparing to open more lease areas on the Continental Shelf to wind farm developers by the end of the month, the fourth and last meeting between fishermen and BOEM officials took place Aug. 6 in New Bedford, Mass. with fishermen calling for a halt to leasing until more science on potential environmental impacts could be completed.

The comment period on the proposed sale of six lease areas in the New York Bight ends Aug. 13; then the BOEM will take some time to prepare the auction details before holding an auction late this year.

The New York Bight is a triangle in the ocean between Montauk Point at the end of Long Island and Cape May at the southern tip of New Jersey. A total of eight leases will be for sale there. The larger portion of the lease area is located 35 miles off New Jersey and can’t be seen from shore, but it does pose hazards for fishing ships transiting the area and impacts the quahog, surf clam, squid and scallop fisheries.

BOEM representatives included Director Amanda Lefton, New York Bight Project Coordinator Luke Feinberg and marine biologist Brian Hooker.

Patrick Field, managing director of Consensus Building Institute, was the moderator and led off with what BOEM has heard from the fishing community so far: offshore wind energy is happening at an accelerated pace; commercial fishermen are concerned for their livelihood and the ecosystem; there’s a need for corridors for fishing within wind farms, as well as a semi-annual report on progress plus a way for commercial fishermen to voice concerns during the development of the wind farms; and finally, there needs to be accountability of BOEM and the developers.

Blair Bailey, an attorney for the Port of New Bedford, Mass., said, “Engagement is an important feature, but it can’t be based on the premise that there is no opposition. We have continually said that it is difficult for the scallop industry to fish within wind farms, and we feel we’ve been completely ignored. … Look around the world – there is not one place where you see scallop fishing in wind farms. It’s different fishing gear. Developers should be prepared for real conflicts.”

Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, said the federal government has done nothing to address the safety of fishermen transiting the proposed wind farms or to protect key habitats of clams, scallops and squid. “Collaboration between fishermen and government agencies has been futile. … The process must be driven by fishermen.”

Katie Almeida, owner of five squid vessels, said the issue of fishermen’s safety has been ignored. “The Coast Guard did not look at the contiguous wind farm areas, and the input we provided has been mostly ignored. … The developers would not engage on the issue of transit. We are spending significant time and effort with little result, and it’s frustrating.”

Another point was brought up by Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, when she asked, “What can you do if you are in a wind farm 35 miles offshore with 10- to 20-foot waves and your engine is gone? You are going to go wherever Mother Nature says you’ll go.”

Brady also said marine radar won’t work within wind farms and endangers fishermen, who might get swept overboard or if a ship is sinking.

And for the siting of leases, Brady said a newer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Survey squid map (2014) of the New York Bight just came out that is different from the 2008 and 2012 maps that were used in the BOEM study. “It just goes to prove that a particular stock of fish don’t just stay in one spot; they migrate.

“The profits will go to hedge funds, but in the meantime, you are going to destroy centuries-old industries, bankrupt businesses that feed the U.S. people.”

Another point was brought up by Brady, who said fishermen from six other states fish in the lease areas as they follow the fish.

“They may be flounder fishing one time and going for squid or whiting at other times. It’s unlike any other industry. And the issue is safety – stuff happens all the time out at sea.” She ended with a plea to stop the lease process. “You can’t eat energy; this is one industry being obliterated by another.”

Scallop fisherman Jay Olsner said the all-important scallop surveys done every year by the research vessels to determine the next year’s allowable catch would not be able to survey a large chunk of the sea floor within the lease areas, and that could have an impact on scallopers’ livelihoods. “When they compile the data, it will reduce the overall population (of shellfish) we can catch in other areas. In other words, less surveyed populations equals a reduced harvest.”

BOEM has made some concessions after listening to the fishermen. It has planned transit lanes 2 miles wide between the leases in what is called Hudson South (off Long Beach Island) to allow for passage to the scallop grounds located farther east.

Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk Larson, an owner of the Viking Village fishing fleet, commented, “These transit lanes will be the only area we will be able to tow (trawl) for scallops safely (in the Hudson South lease area). Will there be cables laid on the bottom of these transit lanes? How can you guarantee that these lanes won’t be filled with barges or loaded with equipment for turbines and work boats?”

Since this was to be a listening session for the BOEM officials to hear fishermen’s concerns, there was little the officials would say. But Feinberg said, “We take all comments holistically. We have taken your comments and are considering a buffer zone between (Hudson South) lease areas and the scallop grounds.”

Because the U.S. Department of Defense has taken a large chunk of the Hudson South lease area off the table, the BOEM is considering moving the main north/south transit lane farther west.

According to a BOEM spokesperson, “The lease sale specifics, including the times and dates, will be published in a Final Sale Notice in the Federal Register, which we expect to happen later this year. Right now, we are forecasting a lease sale in late 2021 or early 2022.”