While the proposed wind energy area off Humboldt Bay is estimated to have a minimal to low impact on the region’s commercial fishing, some industry members do not fully agree with site assessment and characterization survey findings.
During a virtual meeting hosted Tuesday morning by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to gather public input on the site, dubbed the Humboldt Call Area, and provide an update on the project’s progress, BOEM biologist Lisa Gilbane stated the studies show leasing the proposed 206-square-mile site located about 21 miles away from Eureka’s shores will have minimal to low effects on the local fishing operations, marine wildlife and cultural resources. The National Environmental Policy Act requires these studies to be conducted before a decision on leasing is made.
During the resource assessment and site characterization portion of the meeting, Gilbane there is a focus on the region’s fishing ports and activities. While some conflicts such as entanglements with probe buoys and vessel traffic have occurred, she said current assessments indicate the incidents are infrequent.
“It’s not zero, but it is minimal and we also highlight that this wind energy area is 1,600 feet or 270 fathoms, which decreases but does not eliminate commercial fishing conflicts,” she said.
However, people in this industry who participated in the webinar did not agree with the findings.
Concerns of fishermen
Pacific Seafood consultant Mike Okoniewski stated during public comment most fishermen in the region he has spoken to about the project have not been reached to participate in the discussion.
“When I have talked to people that are high liners, people that really catch fish for us, for the Eureka plant, is that very few people even know what’s going on and they have not been approached in our plant in particular, which is the largest plant on the North Coast for processing fish,” he said.
“There seems to be, to me, a major lack of understanding of how important the processes are to the fishery, but also it just seems, in general, we’re missing a lot of primary fishermen that have told me that this area is very important to them,” Okoniewski added.
Eureka-based fisherman Travis Hunter also voiced concerns over potential impacts on the local fishing industry. He stated that the relevant reports do not state how the project will displace the fishing industry.
“I disagree with some of the memo on how displaced fishermen can be from the call area, but there’s been very little discussion about transmission lines from the call area to the shore and how that may impact or displace fishermen. There will be a grave negative impact to the fishing community in this area,” he said.
Impacts to 170 species of coastal and marine birds can potentially come from traffic and noise disturbances, debris and buoys. These are all expected to be minimal. A higher risk exists for 39 marine mammal species and four federally listed sea turtle species that traverse the proposed area. As these species may suffer from occasional entanglements.
While there are no major impacts forecasted to any known archeological or tribal sites and resources, the federal agency continues to communicate with tribes to reduce any impact.
“I just want to highlight we have both government-to-government consultations that are ongoing, and we are committed to understanding the impacts of all different types of communities,” Gilbane said.
In May 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and other federal-level advisors announced an agreement to advance offshore wind energy sites off the central and Northern California coast. The agreement includes the Humboldt Call Area and the Morro Bay area, a 339-square-mile zone off California’s central coast anticipated to generate 3 gigawatts of wind electricity. The Humboldt Call Area is expected to generate 1.6 gigawatts of power in its starting stages.
The Humboldt Call Area is still in the middle of the environmental assessment and public involvement stages, the first half of the leasing document development process. The Morro Bay site is just starting these stages. Both sites will be merged in a joint proposed sale notice with a 60-day period ahead of a final sale notice.
As part of the current public involvement process, BOEM will host another online meeting on Wednesday evening from 5 to 8 p.m. Links to the meeting and more information regarding the projects can be found at https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities/humboldt-wind-energy-area.
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