Offshore Wind Report Highlights Severe Impacts to Fishermen; Indicates “Major Fundamental Flaws” in Process

WASHINGTON, DC / ACCESSWIRE / August 3, 2020 / The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) latest report on offshore wind “highlights the severity of impacts to fishing resources, businesses, and communities” and indicates “major fundamental flaws” in the offshore wind planning process, according to new public comments from the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA). Deficiencies in the report also reveal an unacceptable level of uncertainty and risk from a large-scale new ocean use.

RODA’s comments responded to BOEM’s supplement to the draft environmental impact statement (SEIS) for Vineyard Wind’s proposed 800-megawatt offshore wind project in federal waters off the coast of Massachusetts. In the SEIS, BOEM found that “major cumulative effects could occur on commercial fisheries” from East Coast offshore wind development in the coming years.

“We need to be thinking about the long-term impacts on our coastal communities and marine ecosystems, and right now, there are too many red flags and unknowns,” said Annie Hawkins, RODA’s executive director. “Unfortunately, this is the result of a collective failure to plan in a way that accommodates both fishing and renewable energy, and to invest in sound research and conflict resolution before the very latest stages of project review. The SEIS was a welcome step, but if it serves as the basis for greenlighting 2000 of the world’s largest turbines over 1400 square miles of unique ocean habitat, we’ll be embarking on one of the biggest socio-ecological experiments in history.”

Offshore wind planning has been fundamentally flawed, RODA wrote, and for fishermen, fisheries scientists, and managers, “it is nothing short of chaotic.” While the SEIS partially evaluated fishing impacts, the most important decisions have already been made at the state- and project-level, making it difficult for BOEM to fairly weigh ocean uses, or ensure adequate ecological safeguards, on a geographically-appropriate scale. Fisheries experts have expressed for nearly a decade that the leasing process systematically ignores their environmental concerns until the final permitting phases. Without this important expertise, it is not surprising to see how much conflict and uncertainty remains, RODA wrote.

Transit lanes, the creation of a comprehensive mitigation plan, environmental impacts, and domestic job creation are among the other issues that still need to be resolved if offshore wind is to move forward, according to RODA’s comments.

Fishermen have long maintained that for most fisheries and gear types in the Vineyard Wind area, spacing turbines in a grid 1×1 nautical miles apart is too narrow to operate, making viable and safe transit lanes through the turbine arrays extremely important in the project design. RODA also questioned BOEM’s reliance on the Coast Guard’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study analysis of transit lanes, which RODA previously criticized for containing “serious errors.”

RODA prefers that mitigation efforts focus on avoiding and minimizing impacts on fisheries, before resorting to direct compensation. Fishermen aim to preserve healthy ecosystems and continue fishing for their livelihoods, rather than be paid for damages. Unfortunately, avoiding and minimizing impacts are not currently prioritized in the process, and current compensatory mitigation is insufficient and must be revised with direct input from the fishing industry.

There are also “major flaws” with the current understanding of offshore wind’s impacts on the outer continental shelf ecosystem, RODA wrote. These flaws include insufficient data against which to measure impacts and a lack of time to evaluate impacts before further projects move forward. The comments also cited a recent Science Center for Marine Fisheries review, which concluded the SEIS paid “insufficient attention” to overall wind impacts, including the overall scope and scale of impacts on fisheries surveys and on the critical but ecologically sensitive Mid-Atlantic Cold Pool phenomenon.

Should the Vineyard Wind project move forward despite the largely unaddressed major cumulative impacts to commercial fishing, RODA maintains that BOEM’s final EIS must re-do the mitigation plan to be complete and equitable, make Vineyard Wind a study site for radar interference, adopt adequate transit lanes for fishing, increase investment in research, implement the recommendations of NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, require enhanced interstate coordination, and put fishermen at the table for all decisions and planning going forward.

RODA represents fishing industry associations and companies dedicated to improving the compatibility of offshore developments with their businesses. RODA’s approximately 170 members represent every Atlantic coastal state from North Carolina to Maine, and Pacific coast members in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Press Contact:
Robert Vanasse
Stove Boat Communications
(202) 333-2628

SOURCE: Responsible Offshore Development Alliance

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