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Updated: January 13, 2021

Fishermen say Mills' offshore wind plan is short-circuiting input process

Photo / Laurie Schreiber Lobster boats and the sun settle in for the evening after Maine lobstermen come in from a day of work. Some of them are expressing concern about potential encroachment of offshore wind development.

A coalition of fishing communities last week sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills expressing concern about proposed offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Maine. 

The coalition, called Responsible Offshore Development Alliance and based in Washington, D.C., asked the Mills administration to prioritize “an inclusive planning process and research program over the rapid implementation of commercial-scale OSW [offshore wind] facilities.”

The Maine Lobstermen's Association, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, and a number of Maine-based fishermen are members of the alliance.

The Governor’s Energy Office is leading the development of a research array of up to 12 turbines covering up to 16 square miles somewhere along the southern half of Maine’s coast. The location and size and number of the turbines haven’t been determined yet.

In a virtual information meeting last month, GEO Deputy Director Celina Cunningham said the state is seeking input from fishermen to determine locations hat would have minimal conflict with known fishing grounds.

But Responsible Offshore Development Alliance Executive Director Annie Hawkins wrote the group is “troubled that the timeline for the state’s proposed research array allows for neither adequate planning nor engagement with the fishing industry.”

She added that the fishing industry is willing to work with the state on the research array “to consider outcomes that may minimize impacts to fishing practices and provide much-needed socioeconomic and environmental data. However, this is only possible if we have a reasonable timeline and planning process to complete this work.”

Given the significant fishing occurring in the gulf and the relative lack of fine-scale data regarding fishing activity there, “the risk of unreasonable interference would greatly increase if a project is rushed and does not include close coordination with fishing experts,” she wrote. 

The state’s timeline includes submitting an application for the research array to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management this winter or early spring.

The bureau is responsible for leasing sites in federal waters, which begin 3 miles from the coast.

But Hawkins said the timeline is too short to collect the fishing activity data needed to minimize impacts. The problem is exacerbated by the pandemic, she wrote. 

“Despite the assurance that your office will work with us to ‘ensure that we organize a stakeholder process that is mindful of immediate health and business impacts from COVID-19,’ we have received no roadmap for how the state intends to develop partnerships with the industry that are cognizant of the significant current limitations on meetings, unusual time demands, and economic demands fishermen currently face as essential workers providing food to the nation,” she wrote.

The alliance also called for the research array to be considered as part of a larger planning effort around future offshore wind development, rather than as a stand-alone project.

“This approach does not allow the fishing industry to understand how the research array might fit into a larger OSW development or how to minimize the cumulative impacts of multiple such developments,” Hawkins wrote.

Over two dozen Swan’s Island fishermen signed onto a Facebook push to gather names to add to the letter. The letter was also available through the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association website, which told fishermen they could sign onto the letter by contacting the association. 

In November, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association wrote to Mills to express its concern about proposed offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and the potential that it will negatively impact Maine’s fishing industry

“Offshore wind technologies are evolving rapidly and because of that, there are significant deficiencies in our understanding of the environmental impacts as well as the displacement of fishermen that may result from these projects,” the associate’s executive director, Patrice McCarron, wrote.

“The MLA believes strongly in the need for a robust stakeholder process. To this end, the MLA and many other Maine-based fishing industry associations are working proactively on the offshore wind issue through the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance.”

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