Investigative disputes test relationship between wind and fishing industries

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The Federal Office of Ocean Energy Management and offshore wind energy developers pledge to do better for commercial fishers – with fisheries studies, reconnaissance boats to avoid survey disputes with fishing gear and hiring highly experienced and respected fishermen as industry liaisons.

Incidents of towing survey boats through fixed gear in mid-Atlantic waters put these processes to the test. Conch and black bass fishermen whose gear was damaged off the coast of Delmarva and New Jersey have filed complaints with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

In an April 5 briefing, Amanda Lefton, director of the Federal Office of Ocean Energy Management, and wind developers Ørsted and Atlantic Shores briefed the regional fisheries management board on plans for two adjacent turbine projects. off Atlantic City and Long Beach Island, NJ – and BOEM. recent sale of $4.37 billion in wind leases in the New York Bight that could grow into even bigger arrays further out on the continental shelf.

Next, they heard from fishermen who saw their conch and black bass gear dragged and damaged by survey vessels working on wind leases off New Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula.

New Jersey captain Joe Wagner Jr. told the board how he lost 157 bass traps in 2021 during a survey around the Ørsted Ocean Wind project area.

“The only reason I got any sort of payment (compensation) was because I caught their ship at 3 a.m. pulling three of my great pilots behind their boat,” Wagner said.

Jimmy Hahn, a conch fisherman from Ocean City, Maryland, said there must be accountability for the damage, the disruption of fishing seasons and the displacement of the long-standing fishing ground.

“We need someone we can call,” said Hahn, who described circular referrals of his complaints around the Coast Guard, BOEM and the National Marine Fisheries Service. In November 2021, Hahn was involved in a confrontation with a sounding boat for US Wind that he believed was in danger of overrunning his equipment.

“Obviously they can’t bypass my gear,” he said. “Fishermen must be compensated for losing their bottom.”

“We have a lot of time ahead of us,” Hahn said. “We need to determine now who is going to hold the wind farms accountable.”

Off the Jersey Shore, the Ørsted and Atlantic Shores leases are in waters used by pot and trap fishers, draggers, gillnets and clams.

Ørsted pays for fisheries monitoring work with Rutgers and Monmouth universities, employing Captain Jim Ruhle’s trawler Darana R of Wanchese, North Carolina, and surf clam vessel Joey D.

Fisheries liaison officers work with survey teams to avoid conflicts and reconnaissance vessels are employed, said Ross Pearsall, fisheries relations manager for Ørsted. The company’s stated goal is “to try to resolve any disputes with individual fishers quickly and fairly.”

In these busy waters, maintaining up-to-date communications with anglers is labor intensive.

“I talk to these guys almost every day,” said Kevin Wark, a longtime captain from Barnegat Light, NJ, gillnet captain and fisheries liaison for Atlantic Shores, 1’s planned turbine network. 510 megawatts off Long Beach Island, a joint venture of Shell New Energies and EDF Renewables North America.

It is essential to maintain close contact with the fishermen of the region and the survey teams who will work in these waters, he said.

Wark said anglers “are under a lot of stress on a daily basis” due to planning for weather, fishing regulations and market conditions. For survey boat captains and crews, “they are very concerned about interactions” with fishing gear, he said.

These waters have black bass and lobster trap fisheries, and fixed burbot gillnets in season. The mobile drift gillnet fishery has declined somewhat in recent years and surf clams are moving with climate change.

A lobster fisherman suffered damage during an investigative tow but settled for a refund, Wark said.

A cable survey in the fall of 2021 over a 25 mile range has been planned in advance in discussion with the fishermen and the survey team to be completed before the start of the burbot season with its fixed gillnets, he said.

“They knocked this thing out, so by the time everyone went fishing, they were done,” he said.

“It can be done, it’s a lot of work, a lot of communication, but we can avoid equipment issues I think for the most part,” Wark said. “There needs to be communication between the survey vessel and whoever is doing the liaison work, you really need to be on it.”

Following BOEM’s record auction in the New York Bight in February, the agency is now “winnowing” potential wind energy areas off Delaware south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. , taking into account factors such as shipping, fishing, the Gulf Stream route, and protected species like loggerhead sea turtles, said Lefton, director of BOEM.

This process reduced the initial study area by 68.5% and reduced the subsequent planning area by 31%. BOEM is seeking to release a “call zone” to generate interest from wind energy developers in the region, with a view to holding a lease auction in the third quarter of 2023, Lefton said.

Board member Dewey Hemilright, a commercial fisherman from Wanchese, North Carolina, told Lefton that a big potential conflict with the pelagic longliner fleet could lurk in the mid-Atlantic.

“I would venture to say that probably 25% ‘of the longliners from Texas to the Carolinas fish in the area,’ Hemilright said. Pelagic longline and other floating gear cannot operate around wind turbine arrays, he said. he declares.

“There’s probably only about 60 active boats left, and I’d hate to see them go,” Hemilright said.

These areas being considered for wind power “are going to get smaller,” Lefton said. BOEM officials are aware of longline fishing movements and take this into account in their planning, she said.

A system to fairly compensate fishermen for their lost labor due to wind energy development, and to mitigate the long-term effects, has yet to be put in place. BOEM and NOAA are working on a framework outlining how offset and mitigation funding will be required for wind developers’ construction and operating plans.

But despite the money being paid to developers for federal wind leases — like the unprecedented $4.37 billion for BOEM’s auction in the New York Bight — it would take an act of Congress to redirect some of that money to managing the impacts of wind energy. By law, everything goes directly to the US Treasury, Lefton said.

The $4.37 billion for the New York Bight leases “will only come from (electric) ratepayers,” said Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware professor and offshore wind development expert. He asked “if BOEM is working to get legislation” that would allow for “distributive justice” for fishers and communities that will be affected by wind projects.

“We have these impacts,” Firestone said, “and we have a lot of money.”

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