Understanding Offshore Wind, Commercial Fisheries, and Coastal Economies

March 14, 2022
Heather Munro Mann

I forget that even people who live in coastal communities don’t necessary understand the complexities of commercial fisheries even though the industry is a cornerstone of many coastal economies. 

In an Oregon Department of Energy meeting last week, a comment was made by a state representative that essentially said that if floating turbine wind farms displace fishing activity, fishermen can just move to other areas in the ocean that remain open. This comment was startling and displays a misunderstanding of how our important fisheries work. 

Oregon’s commercial fishermen face a myriad of challenges while pursuing their livelihoods. There are existing closed areas (marine reserves and essential fish habitat areas) where fishing cannot occur. There are additional areas that fishermen voluntarily stay out of to minimize incidental catch of non-target species. There are gear restrictions in certain areas – some are required, and others are common sense, so you don’t lose your gear. There are changing ocean conditions that have resulted in species showing up in different areas and in different amounts than we have seen before. There are marine mammal and endangered species considerations including critical habitat designations. There are capacity and processing infrastructure considerations and balancing a variety of fishery harvests that impact timing of seasons. The fish we target do not understand boundaries the way humans do- the fish are following their feed and preferred water temperature – which is also changing as the climate changes. 

Even without floating offshore wind farms, the ocean off Oregon is an obstacle course, not an open grassy plain. As the harvesters of healthy seafood for the nation who simultaneously support thousands of Oregon jobs both onshore and on the water, the concerns of the fishing industry regarding offshore energy development must be acknowledged and minimized. 

We deserve to have an authentic seat at the table or it won’t be sustainable seafood on the menu, but rather Oregon’s multi-generational fishing families.