By Doreen Leggett
Spread over 1,400 square miles in southern New England, five wind farms planned by different companies all must do studies to gauge their impacts.
One key issue is that commercial fishermen believe their legitimate concerns about how large fields of turbines will affect their livelihoods is being brushed off and overlooked.
“Our focus is how do we do good science, and how do we do good science to answer the questions that people have,” said Lyndie Hice-Dunton, who recently celebrated her two-year anniversary as executive director of Responsible Offshore Science Alliance, ROSA. “There is the potential to throw nets in the water and collect information, but it may not be answering the (real) questions.”
Here’s an example of how wind farm executives and commercial fishermen see things differently:
Each wind farm was laid out in a different array to maximize energy production. With no straight lines or organized plan combining them, fishermen saw an obstacle course with no clear path through.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, RODA, successfully worked to address that glaring problem, said Jarrett Drake, a lobsterman and member of the advocacy group. RODA, partnering with offshore wind developers, launched ROSA soon after to get in front of the reams of scientific studies the wind farms were required to create.
“So much is poorly understood regarding the impacts of large-scale offshore wind energy development to fisheries and fish stocks, and studies that have been performed lack regional coordination,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of RODA. The science-based group ROSA “will be immensely helpful to the fishing industry so that it may provide leadership in study prioritization, methodology and execution through cooperative research.”
Wind farm companies have joined the ROSA initiative; the advisory council has about 40 representatives from commercial and recreational fishermen, offshore wind developers, and state and federal agencies. ROSA’s role is to remain impartial.
Stephanie Sykes, outreach coordinator at the Fishermen’s Alliance, said ROSA will have an important role to play.
“As the offshore wind industry rapidly develops, it is important to understand how that will inevitably affect the commercial fishing industry. We need more than checking boxes that surveys were done – we need to identify region-specific needs and continually update research to best inform the management process for both fisheries and offshore wind,” she said.
Drake, who owns the F/V Encourager, thinks fishermen’s involvement is paramount.
“If you aren’t at the table, you are on the plate,” he said.
Drake has been paying attention to wind issues for more than a decade. “You have to be involved,” he added.
ROSA can prioritize studies with fishermen engagement and standard methodologies, then share results so the wheel doesn’t have to get reinvented, Drake said.
Hice-Dunton said ROSA has spent more than a year trying to accomplish just that.
“From the fishing industry side there was a real frustration that they didn’t have a voice in the process,” she said. “We are making sure fishermen are involved in every process and see how that feedback is incorporated into our work.”
Hice-Dunton explained that ROSA recently hired Mike Pol, formerly of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries as research director. Among the projects Pol is working on is standardization of fishing gear across research projects.
Drake used an example: If one survey is measuring the size of conch, a thriving fishery in the area, from end to end, while another is measuring width, comparisons become useless.
“We started working on monitoring guidance for offshore wind and fisheries,” Hice-Dunton said.
She added that although there already is guidance from the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, BOEM, the primary permitting organization for wind projects, there is variation and questions about how it is done.
ROSA set parameters on how stakeholders conduct science and collect data that is informative, with clear survey methods. The wind farm representatives have been supportive because more clarity helps the process. However, cooperation needs to be voluntary; ROSA has no regulatory authority.
Ideally, there will come a time when studies can be uploaded to ROSA’s website and shared regionally. That requires data-sharing agreements, which can be complicated.
While ROSA’s role is to remain impartial there is the backdrop of RODA suing BOEM over its approval of Vineyard Wind. RODA representatives argue that the permitting process flouted several legal requirements, including the National Environmental Policy Act.
Drake has worked with UMass-Dartmouth on studies ranging from plankton to the populations of lobster and black sea bass. That work will help develop a baseline so when the wind farm is up and running, impacts can be assessed. If there are changes, researchers will look for whether they are linked to the wind farm, climate change, natural variation, regulations, or something else entirely.
Drake has been fishing for 40 years. “Most kids got a paper route, my brother and I got a 16-foot skiff,” he said with a chuckle. He also went to college for electrical engineering so understands segments of the wind projects; he believes renewable energy is an essential part of the future.
He gets flak from other captains about his collaborative work with universities to get answers to questions about how wind farms will change the ecosystem. But he thinks it is important.
“I want it done right and I don’t want to displace fishermen,” he said. “I want people to know that what I am doing can only help.”