A recently formed association is seeking to afford some protection to the fishermen who will lose access to fishing grounds as the state and country transition to running on renewable energy like offshore wind.
Earlier this year, Humboldt County’s commercial fishermen joined with other members of their industry across the North Coast, from Crescent City to San Francisco, to form the California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association. The association is a point of contact for offshore wind developers, with whom the association wants to develop industry-to-industry contracts called fishing community benefit agreements that will ensure harm to California’s community fishing grounds is minimized and mitigated.
“Fishermen are not opposed to renewable energy,” Ken Bates, a board member of Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association and a representative of the California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association, told the California Coastal Commission earlier this year in April. “But fishermen are opposed to the industrialization and loss of California’s fishing grounds.”
There are already a lot of restrictions on when and where commercial fishing can take place along the California coast and fishermen have said the installation of offshore wind turbines would further limit their access. The two leases being sold about 20 miles off the coast of Humboldt County total 132,369 acres. The total is 373,268 acres when including the three lease offered in Morro Bay.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is partially requiring and partially encouraging developers to work with local communities if they secure one or more of the leases. The proposed sale notice with preliminary details about the offshore wind leases and auction process includes proposed incentives that would be given to developers that commit to community benefit agreements.
Community benefit agreements are arrangements made between community benefit groups and developers in which the former agrees to support a project, which generally requires several public hearings, in exchange for a developer’s commitment to fund or provide certain benefits to the local area or industry. Those benefits can range from offering workforce training programs to helping fund road repairs.
Years before BOEM’s offshore wind lease process began, developer Castle Wind and the Central Coast Fishermen’s Associations were negotiating a comprehensive fishing community benefit agreement that committed to avoiding, minimizing and mitigating the harm done to commercial fishing from developing offshore wind farms in the state’s community fishing grounds.
That set a high bar for industry-to-industry agreements and the fishermen’s resiliency association is pushing for a statewide fishing community benefit agreement, the provisions of which would be locally administered by the association’s regional management committees.
The association is made up of seven Northern California Port Commercial Fishermen’s Associations, including the ports of Crescent City, Trinidad Bay, Humboldt Bay, Shelter Cove, Fort Bragg or Noyo, Bodega Bay, and San Francisco. The association is planning on expanding membership to the California Port Fishermen’s Associations of Central and Southern California, too.
Dr. Erin Baker is a professor of industrial engineering and operations research and is the faculty director of the Energy Transition Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She said commercial fishermen and wind developers on the East Coast encountered similar challenges and it was good the fishermen were trying to work with the developers.
“It’s really important that the wind farms work with the fishermen and that the fishermen try to develop trust for the wind farms,” Baker said. “There are a lot of challenges to fishing and while wind farms present a little bit of a challenge, they’re working to fight climate change. Climate change is also providing a lot of challenges to fishermen.”
Human-caused climate change is having disastrous impacts on the world’s oceans, making them hotter and more acidic. The ocean has absorbed 93% of the excess heat generated from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s and marine heatwaves are estimated to have increased by 50% in the past 30 years, according to the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council.
A marine heatwave along the West Coast that lasted from 2014 to 2016, better known as “the blob,” devastated local species and climate scientists expect those types of events will only increase in the future without immediate intervention.
“When I started studying climate change, it was off in the future somewhere,” Baker said. ” … It’s very different now. We are really seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change everywhere.”
Society needs to transition away from running on fossil fuels, which generate heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, Baker said.
“There’s a whole portfolio that we can be using,” Baker said. “Nuclear is also carbon-free, in some cases we might want to use carbon capture, and there are a few other types of technologies like geothermal.”
The cost of low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar have been plummeting over the past decade, which makes them an attractive alternative, she said.
It’s still a balancing act, Baker said. Locally, there would be benefits like the cables connecting offshore wind farms to the shore creating artificial reefs that could serve as habitat for and increase sea life. At the same time, Baker said they might interfere with whale migrations.
“We need to constantly be balancing the massive global benefits from wind and solar against some local environmental costs,” Baker said. “But many of those environmental costs are really swamped by climate change.”
Society’s continued reliance on fossil fuels is going to drive the loss of whole species and the damage being caused by fossil fuels is hard to calculate, she said. Meanwhile, Baker said offshore wind reduces emissions and the cost of reaching climate goals, which could result in billions or trillions of dollars worth of gained climate value.
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