After an on-the-water standoff between commercial fisherman Jimmy Hahn and a US Wind survey boat, Rep. Andy Harris met with area fisherman to discuss encroachment into fishing areas.
The closed meeting Wednesday, also attended by state Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-38-Worcester, included more than 12 fishermen primarily from Ocean City who discussed survey ships damaging potentially lucrative fishing pots in allowed fishing areas.
“On Nov. 1 at approximately 3 p.m., we were on on our way to set more conch pots and I noticed a US Wind survey boat was tearing through my gear,” Hahn said. “I contacted them on a radio channel, as well as our fishing liaison from US Wind, and we had a conversations for 30 minutes and they would not stop going through my gear.”
What followed was Hahn placing his ship between his pots and the much larger boat. Eventually, the survey ship begged off.
“US Wind sent me an email on Oct. 22 stating I was allowed to fish in an area from the beach to 7.5 miles offshore. They should honor what they say,” Hahn said. “I talked to them numerous times and their fishing liaison, and they agreed to pay for the cost of the gear, but I want to be paid for what the pot would have earned for the year.”
For fishermen like Hahn, time is of the essence when his season lasts only three months.
According to Hahn, a quarter of his usual gear is now unusable following the incident.
“If these wind mills are allowed to be placed out here, we’re out of business. You’ll no longer see any fresh seafood coming into Ocean City,” Hahn said. “This is not a done deal because US Wind doesn’t have all its permits, and Rep. Harris can get the word out that (US Wind) isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”
Nancy Sopko, director of External Affairs for US Wind, noted their scientific research vessel had been doing its surveys since April of this year. Furthermore, she also said this was the only incident of this nature thus far.
“Our fisheries liaison did communicate with Mr. Hahn that survey vessels were not going to the west of preset coordinates, so he was clear to lay his pots west of that location,” Sopko said. “There was a storm moving up the coast Halloween weekend and, on Nov. 1, that bad weather persisted with high seas and brought a king tide. As a result, the research vessel had to move closer to shore more than it had intended.”
The vessel had ended up “where it hadn’t planned on being” and where Hahn did not expect such a vessel to be.
The survey boat was told to avoid all fishing gear it spotted, which is normally marked with buoys. The king tide had managed to submerge them and made pots difficult to spot as the survey vessel continued its work.
According to Sopko, US Wind was in the area for less than five hours and was trying to leave upon being made aware of the presence of the pots, but Hahn “was hazarding the exit” and thus made the time in the area longer.
Within that five-hour window, the survey equipment was deployed for 90 minutes.
“We understand the communication failure was on our part and we would love to continue conversations with Mr. Hahn to identify the extent of the damage and come to an agreeable solution,” Sopko said.
That includes discussions on possible reimbursement of estimated lost wages for the lost pots. Claims can be filed by fishermen to be reimbursed for damaged equipment, where in a prior case, the claim was paid within two weeks.
Fishermen feel “railroaded”
According to Hahn, he feels wind energy companies have not been forthcoming with the public when it comes to how fishermen are treated and the impact on the industry.
Derrick Hoi, another fisherman from Ocean City echoed Hahn’s sentiment noting ongoing surveys are making it impossible to fish, and thus, earn a living.
“Right now, the wind energy companies aren’t allowing us to work because they’re surveying and dredging all our gear up,” Hoi said.
“It means a great deal having Rep. Harris listen,” he said. “You have to have someone to speak up. We’re just getting railroaded and we don’t have any say at all.”
Hoi noted events like the one Nov. 1 were inevitable if the the local seafood industry is continually halted.
According to Hoi, fishermen who have fished those waters for a number of years and have legally purchased licenses and permits are dealing with a lack of consideration by companies like US Wind.
“The government has sold us out,” Hoi said.
A statement by US Wind on their official website concerning impacts on fisheries notes their ongoing efforts cultivate a dialogue with commercial fishermen.
“Our company has partnered with Sea Risk Solutions to be our fisheries liaisons who will aid our outreach efforts with fishermen in Maryland and the Delmarva region,” US Wind stated. “We are eager to hear from, and listen to, local fishermen and mariners on all aspects of our offshore project activities so that we can coordinate, collaborate and coexist.”
Vince Cannuli, a fisherman in the for-hire and recreational sector, works in Ocean City and says it is no longer just commercial fishing being impacted by potential expansion of wind farms.
“The viewshed, the recreational anglers, for-hire anglers and commercial fisheries are all being impacted by this wind farm plan,” Cannuli said. “The federal government has leased our recreational and livelihood to corporation called US Wind, but is a subsidiary of an Italian corporation.”
Currently, US Wind has permits to move forward with its surveying projects in and around the lease area approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. They have submitted to the federal government an application for their construction and application plan and are updating that.
Following the submittal, the application undoes a sufficiency review and, if approved, US Wind would receive a notice of intent to move forward with an Environmental Impact Statement.
That begins a two-year process under the National Environmental Policy Act. After approval of that, construction can begin.
Cannuli doubted the projected output of large-scale areas of turbines given delays in construction of green-lit projects off the coast of Maryland and Delaware. Some of those delays have been attributed to pandemic-based causes, according to wind energy companies.
He added such large structures (some over 800 feet tall) would also create navigational hazards.
“There’s animals that live in the area where they’re going to put a 40-foot in diameter piling 200 feet into the ground,” Cannuli said. “They’re conchs, scallops, clams and crabs that can’t move to get out of the way of these operations. They’ll be doing this without prejudice.”
Cannuli characterized the “decadelong” conversation with US Wind as little more than promises on how successful the plans will be, with few actual developments.
Andy Harris on wind farms
Harris, a stalwart opponent of large-scale wind farms off the coast of Maryland, continued to decry the push by the Maryland Public Service Commission asking for bids to distribute 1,200 offshore megawatt credits.
“Unfortunately this is not the first time US Wind has not negotiated in good faith,” said Harris, a Republican who represents District 1. “They promised the windmills were going to be shorter and at least 17 miles off shore, now, they’ll be much taller and 13 miles off shore. They’re not willing to talk to Ocean City – and this is what we thought was going to happen from the start.”
Harris added the state PSC should revisit slated wind projects as “they aren’t viable without the state subsidy” even if they have a federal lease on the land.
Plans by US Wind include MarWin, which represents only a fraction of the potential power production as the total lease area of 80,000 acres has the capacity to create 1,500 megawatts.
In September, US Wind told Delmarva Now that the project brings with it an estimated 3,000 jobs to the area, with the company saying it would use unions to fill many of the positions. That comes at an investment cost of over $75 million to Maryland ports, and revitalizing the state’s industrial waterfront.
“Other issues that come up are the horseshoe crabs and their importance to the pharmaceutical industry in testing intravenous drugs and these projects disrupt that,” Harris said. “We want to hear what the problem is, how US Wind has not addressed their concerns. They may be willing to not use this survey boat, but the fact they hired one that didn’t respect commercial fishermen is a very bad sign.”
Harris said he felt US Wind is taking advantage of the fact that such leases were sped up under the current presidential administration.
Subsidies, Harris argued, come from higher rates paid by the public. Lack of proper oversight for projects such as these is an affront to taxpayers.
“The General Assembly could provide proper oversight, but I’m not sure if they’re willing to do it. It really falls to the state PSC,” Harris said.
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