Offshore wind energy continues to press ahead, and while those companies that intend to erect scores of turbines off the Ocean City coast continue to work on strengthening their ties within the maritime community, chasms remain between their interests and those of commercial and recreational fishermen.
Last week, representatives from US Wind – Director of External Affairs Nancy Sopko, Director of Marine Affairs Ben Cooper and Fisheries Liaison Ron Larsen – briefed the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council on their progress in the area and their discussions with fishermen.
The trio discussed their current project, “MarWin,” and also a new one, Momentum Wind, which received the go-ahead from the state of Maryland earlier this week in the form of 808.5 offshore renewable energy credits, according to a US Wind press release. The project will add 55 turbines to the company’s Maryland lease area.
Larsen demonstrated to the council that one concern – that maneuvering through a wind farm would put an added burden on fishermen – wasn’t as bad as it seems. It’s an added transit of anywhere from roughly 0.2 to 0.5 nautical miles, he said.
They also covered the November confrontation with Ocean City fisherman Jimmy Hahn and their progress in reimbursing him for lost conch pots, as well as their efforts to resolve two other incidents that occurred this year.
In response to what happened with Hahn – an incident that saw Hahn confront a surveying vessel by blocking its path to keep it from destroying more gear – US Wind paused geophysical surveying on Nov. 4. They had intended to resume on Dec. 13 but are now targeting Jan. 1 to resume surveying.
Fishery liaisons such as Larsen will be aboard every surveying vessel when surveying resumes, Sopko said, which they believe will give them a leg up in real-time conflict resolution.
“We have heard that, given that it is the height of conch season, this further delay would be very much appreciated by the local conch fishermen in our area,” Sopko told the council. “While it was not an easy decision to make, we believe it was the best decision to make sure we are listening to the local fishermen and their needs and trying to be flexible in our plans to meet the needs of the local fisherman. We were happy to do that and make that concession. if we can move forward together offshore.”
The trio stuck around after the presentation to take feedback from the council and heard a few concerns – specifically, that they must understand that they’re only part of the problem if other wind energy companies don’t mirror US Wind’s efforts to make fishermen whole and that the small added-transit figures don’t take into account other wind farms, which one council member described as “insulting” to see the issue framed as Larsen did.
In an emailed statement, US Wind said that it believes itself to be one of the industry leaders in fisheries communication and it is “confident that fishing and other types of vessels will be able to navigate through the wind farm, given that our turbines will be sited nearly one nautical mile apart.”
“In fact, the additional structure caused by wind turbines will enhance some fishing opportunities,” the statement read. “We strive every day to understand the priorities of local fishermen and address concerns that arise. We know we can coexist if we work together.”
On Monday, a long-sought face-to-face meeting between US Wind and local fishermen occurred in which much of the information shared to the fisheries council was relayed to the fishermen. Still, hearty skepticism remains for fishermen who say the future looks even bleaker than the present.
“They’re trying to say they’re going to work with us, but the reality of it is that once this survey is done and once they get permission to do this project and start dragging these 800-feet-tall things out there, there’s no way we can be out there for at least two years (while that’s happening),” said Roger Wooleyhan, a fisherman with more than 40 years experience off the Maryland and Delaware coasts. “Then, maybe after the smoke clears, we can fit in between, if there’s not a lot of maintenance boats.”
Wooleyhan is one of the other fishermen working through a damages claim with US Wind for lost and destroyed pots. His interactions with US Wind at sea occurred over the summer. Only recently has he heard from the company that they’re still processing his claim, he said.
The picture Wooleyhan paints is bleak. The problem isn’t just a problem for Ocean City and Delaware. He sees negative repercussions along the entire Eastern Seaboard and can’t see how some of the larger fishing vessels can successfully navigate a wind farm in dense fog.
“They’re taking a lot of good fishing routes, all off New Jersey – I mean those guys must be going nuts over there,” Wooleyhan said. “But the reality of it is that this dense fog is going to put everybody into (a handful of alleyways). You won’t be able to drive in between these things in the dense fog, because of the reflective – like, if you get near a ship your radar (will react a certain way) and you can’t really see where that ship is when you get that close. That’s what’s going to happen (with these turbines).”
“It is probably just going to be a bunch of junk in the ocean in 20 years, and it definitely bothers us … It’s going to hurt us all and displace us in two years.”
During the meeting, Wooleyhan said that US Wind officials asked them to let them know before Jan. 1 where their pots and buoys are so they can avoid them, but he doesn’t believe its large ships – some of which take half a mile to turn around – can possibly do that.
US Wind had a different outlook on the future after the meeting.
“We had a great meeting with the fishermen on Monday,” its statement read. “We were able to get actionable feedback on how best to coordinate our respective offshore activities and avoid and mitigate conflict at sea. We’ll continue to solicit feedback from this important industry as we advance our development plans.”
When asked if the meeting signaled significant progress, Wooleyhan replied, “No, I don’t. We’re going to be pushed out and all these guys who are making a living are going to be put out. The survey is one thing. But when they start dragging these things in, at least for two years, there’s going to be nobody allowed in there. And who knows what effect these things have on fish?”
This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Dec. 24, 2021.
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