ON OUR RADAR: Offshore Wind Development

May 25, 2021
Offshore Wind - UK

     Commercial fishing stakeholders concerned about offshore wind development got a swift wake-up call earlier this month, when the federal government abruptly approved the Vineyard Wind project, located 15 miles off Martha’s Vineyard.

     Reportedly the U.S.’s third offshore wind project, Vineyard Wind is far and away the largest, approved for up to 84 wind turbines, located roughly one nautical mile apart. From the way it was permitted to the anticipated impacts on commercial fishing, this offshore development (with European ownership) is sure to be a bellwether of things to come off the coasts of the U.S.

     Earlier this month, Midwater Trawlers Cooperative (MTC) participated in a meeting of nearly 50 representatives from around the country to learn about the challenges faced on the East Coast, where this project was permitted. We gathered critical information that we must assimilate as we mobilize for what could potentially be a grave threat to our fishing grounds.

     The Oregon Trawl Commission organized the meeting and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) Executive Director Annie Hawkins was one of the featured speakers. Hawkins warned participants that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – a division of the US Department of Interior – is expected to solicit for bids for West Coast development in the near future. Part of RODA’s effort is to address gaps in the data that gets used to determine the spatial needs of fishermen.

     Hawkins urged everyone attending the virtual meeting – from fishermen to organized associations – to make sure data collection was a priority. Collect the data, she said, “about where you’re fishing and what the values are because that will be minimized and questioned every step of the way.”

     One specific tool being touted as a data resource is the Oregon Wind Map, found here. Several individuals pointed out that the data was inconclusive or inaccurate. In part, that’s because the tool uses data from automatic identification systems (AIS) to collect information and many boats are not required to use AIS.

     Meeting participants heard from Bonnie Brady, of the Long Island Fishing Association, whose presentation could be boiled down to a few very emphatic points: Be Present – Be Loud – Get Organized. As the voice of experience, Brady’s perspective was both inspiring and chilling.

     Mike Conroy, of West Coast Fisheries Consultants, shared the history of proposed offshore development off of California. Based on current momentum, Conroy expects BOEM to designate wind energy areas off California by the end of this summer. From his perspective, Oregon has the advantage of seeing not only what happened on the East Coast, but what’s happening currently in California.

     Oregon interest groups are currently organizing to make sure commercial fishing has a seat at the table and an authentic voice in the process. From what we learned this week, that won’t be easy, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Just having a voice will likely be a fight.

     In the coming weeks, we will share more specifics about offshore wind development, our concerns about its impact on the commercial fishing industry, and opportunities for those who support the industry to get involved. Keep an eye on our ISSUES page, where we will share some info pieces, as well as links to resources that can help the reader learn more about this important topic.