By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Deepwater Wind is trying to keep fishermen happy while it builds more offshore wind facilities. The latest effort aims to protect commercial fishing gear, but fishermen and their advocacy groups want broader protections for fishing grounds and their livelihood.
The Providence-based company recently announced a program to inform fishermen of where and when construction and other work occurs at the site of three wind facilities and their electric cables. The offshore wind developer hired liaisons to offer dockside information to fishermen at main fishing ports such as New Bedford, Mass., Point Judith, and Montauk, N.Y. Daily activity will be posted online about surveys, construction, and maintenance work. The updates will also be broadcast twice daily on boating radio channels, according to Deepwater Wind.
Deepwater Wind has three primary offshore wind projects that will be covered by the new program: the nation's first offshore wind facility, the Block Island Wind Farm; the Skipjack Wind Farm off the coast of Delaware and Maryland; and the South Fork Wind Farm, which is proposed for federal water between Rhode Island and Massachusetts and would deliver electricity to eastern Long Island via a 30-mile undersea cable.
Bonnie Brady, president of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the outreach by Deepwater Wind is window dressing. Deepwater Wind is “not doing anything at all. it’s a big, giant schmooze,” she said.
Brady and other commercial fishing groups are calling for a more comprehensive assessment of the impacts of these wind facilities on different fisheries, as well as a thorough plan to compensate fishermen for damaged gear and lost wages.
Brady, who represents long-line fishermen, gill netters, and trawlers at 14 ports on Long Island, said noise from pile driving scares away fish. She noted that undersea cables permanently alter sea life and damage fishing gear.
Brady wants a compensation plan similar to the one employed by Deepwater Wind as part of the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) that was created by Rhode Island for offshore activities such as wind farms.
“They've done none of that for us,” Brady said.
Groups such as the Fisheries Survival Fund and the National Coalition of Fishing Communities also want relief from the disruption of offshore wind turbines. They say excavating the seafloor for trenches scares away fish. While the undersea cables attract some sea life, they repel others, according to opponents of offshore wind. In areas that the cable can't be buried, protective mats are used to cover the cable but easily snag fishing gear.
But Brady said the compensation plan so far fails to consider the loss of access to fishing grounds such as Cox Ledge. She said the latest compensation system doesn’t pay for lost revenue, only damaged equipment.
Richard Fuka, president of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, said he speaks with fishermen daily in Point Judith and he’s hearing the fishing stocks are down around the Block Island Wind Farm.
“These windmills turn on and things start to disappear,” he said.
When asked about the generally positive findings about fisheries and marine life reported by scientists at a wind energy forum at the University of Rhode Island last December, Fuka said more time is needed to assess the impacts, especially before more offshore wind facilities are approved in southern New England fishing grounds.
“We are swapping a food source for an energy source,” he said.