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You wouldn’t buy a house without an inspection, so why would we fill the Gulf of Maine with wind turbine superstructures without understanding how they interact with the marine environment?
Offshore wind energy features too many unknowns to proceed at this point with widescale ocean industrialization. That’s why my organization, the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association (NEFSA) has joined with partner organizations to call on state and federal authorities to reset our renewable energy policy.
The state of Maine is developing a floating offshore wind research array at a 15-square-mile site in the Gulf of Maine. NEFSA and its allies are asking state and federal authorities to delay any further development until experts have monitored and studied the research array. We should rescind the existing Gulf of Maine Call Area and conduct an environmental review for the Gulf of Maine before identifying any commercial wind energy areas.
I’ve been a fishing boat captain for over 20 years. I sailed out of New Bedford, Mass., and have scores of fishermen in my family lineage. From generation to generation, we have upheld a legacy of environmental stewardship and economic dynamism that has maintained the fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine while providing billions for New England’s economy. But every principle of stewardship and hard work we have upheld to preserve our maritime heritage is in jeopardy and could force our region into oblivion.
Thanks to our government and foreign green energy companies, we are on the path to industrialize our most fertile fishing grounds with thousands of wind turbines. The results will significantly impact our ecosystems.
For example, a 2022 PNAS Nexus study found that subsea HVDC cables delivering energy from offshore wind platforms reduce the swimming activities of haddock larvae, a staple New England fish product. The study warns of the potentially devastating consequences for the Atlantic haddock stocks. As the study relates, HVDC cables will likely be in common use because they are cheap and do not lose the energy they transport.
The big problem with HVDC cables is that they emit magnetic fields. The study concluded that the magnetic fields reduce haddock larvae’s swimming activity by 60%, causing them to drift to unfamiliar areas with less food and more predators, taking a toll on the population.
Another study found that wind turbines churn up sea sediment and generate a wake that trails for miles. These sediment plumes can be seen from space and would disrupt production of phytoplankton, the base of marine food chains.
NEFSA has compiled these and other studies in a concise Research Summary we released on July 31. One of our coalition partners, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), has exhaustively documented what is known and unknown about interactions between fisheries and wind turbines.
The Biden administration concedes that we do not yet understand how offshore energy platforms will affect the ecosystem. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is soliciting applications for an $850,000 grant to study the effects of wind firms on right whale acoustics. The right whale is a critically endangered species.
The findings in NEFSA’s research summary track my experiences of the ocean and marine life. I’ve been fishing since the time I could walk. My father’s fathers passed on knowledge not found in textbooks. One thing I’ve learned is that if we take care of our ocean, the ocean will take care of us. It’s a mutual relationship, and that’s why I want to protect marine ecosystems from reckless development.
Fishing in New England is more than a source of income for me and my family. It’s the only way of life I’ve ever known. The same is true of businesses that depend on fishing, like dockyards or trap builders. I can’t fish without support from my community, and my hometown of Harpswell will be completely wiped out unless we stop and consider our energy policy.
The push for offshore wind could destroy our nation’s food security, local economies across New England and, most importantly, devastate our oceans and all the life it supports. Our elected leaders must do more to protect our fisheries and stand up for the people they have sworn an oath to protect. Industrializing our oceans in the name of green energy is a risk our leaders shouldn’t be willing to take without further study.
Jerry Leeman is CEO of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association.
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