Posted on May 24, 2023
As offshore wind companies seek permits for new projects, officials in New Bedford are weighing in on the impact on the fishing industry.
SouthCoast Wind, formerly Mayflower Wind, is proposing a 2,400-megawatt offshore wind project located 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
New Bedford Port Authority Executive Director Gordon Carr is calling for SouthCoast Wind to follow Vineyard Wind’s lead in support of local fisheries programs and projects. Vineyard Wind is closing in on construction of its wind farm.
In a letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that oversees the process, Carr responded to the request for comments about SouthCoast’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) outlining the impact of the project.
What kind of fisheries mitigation is needed?
He wrote that the primary concern with the process to date is the lack of definitive, enforceable measures relative to fisheries mitigation. New Bedford and other ports stand to benefit financially, but the impact on the fishing industry is a concern.
Carr said SouthCoast Wind should consider developing a separate fisheries innovation fund similar to Vineyard Wind’s mitigation plan to support local fisheries programs and projects.
“Similar to Vineyard Wind, SouthCoast Wind has deployed a robust fisheries liaison program staffed by professionals that truly know the commercial fishing industry,” he said.
He explained that Vineyard Wind is providing $1.75 million into a Fisheries Mitigation Fund to promote co-existence between offshore wind development and longstanding fishing activities. The funds could be used for research, innovation and promotion of local seafood.
The New Bedford Port Authority is a member of an advisory panel established by Vineyard Wind.
What areas will offshore wind impact?
Carr said it is essential to understand that the impact on the fishing industry isn’t necessarily limited to a particular geography near a wind energy area. He said it’s rare that the areas closest to a wind area would suffer the most impact.
Where are the abundant scallop grounds?
He said the fish may be caught in the wind energy area, but it most often is landed and processed and has its true economic impact elsewhere.
For example, he said some of the most abundant scallop grounds are in the area known as the New York Bight, off the coast of New Jersey. Mobile bottom gear (trawls and dredge) account for more than 70% of the catch and 96% of the revenue from that area.
The vast majority of that catch and revenue from the Bight comes to New Bedford, not in any port in New Jersey.
He said there is no definitive answer as to what areas would suffer the most impact and why.
“It is difficult to determine the areas most impacted given the many unknowns related to offshore wind effects on the ocean ecosystem and the fishery,” he said. “This is why we continue to advocate for more research and analysis – particularly baseline assessments of all wind energy areas – so changes and impacts can be measured and quantified in the future.”
How long should fishing income mitigation last?
The DEIS states that Mayflower Wind would implement a compensation program for lost income for commercial and recreational fishing interests during construction and for a minimum of five years post-construction.
However, Carr said five years isn’t enough when the entire time period of the project could last over 30 years.
He said it’s their hope and expectation that final guidance for mitigating impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries related to project siting, design, navigation, access, safety measures, and most importantly financial compensation will be completed before a final Environmental Impact Statement is finalized.
“There is almost certainly going to be a ramp-up time or learning curve for fishermen to figure out how or if they will be able to fish in WEAs, and the effects on the fishery will also develop over a period of time,” he said. “Given this, five years is far too short a time to fully understand the impacts, let alone to believe that impacts will end after five years.“
How is SouthCoast Wind responding?
Carr said SouthCoast Wind is taking the matter seriously.
“While we continue to have concerns about the federal regulatory approach to commercial fisheries mitigation, SouthCoast Wind is signaling that it takes the matter seriously, understands the importance of addressing such mitigation and is determined to minimize its adverse effects on this critical longstanding coastal industry,” he said. “We hope that such efforts and commitment will be matched by BOEM and others in the near future.”
He said it is also worth noting that in addition to its commitment to mitigation, SouthCoast Wind has made a strong set of economic development commitments for different purposes including port infrastructure, innovation and entrepreneurship and applied research.