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Updated: June 3, 2022

UMaine, lobster industry partner to map fishing and avoid conflict with wind turbines

green boat and red boat File photo / Laurie Schreiber UMaine will work with lobster fishermen to aggregate fishing location data with the goal of avoiding conflicts with prospective floating offshore wind development.

Maine lobstermen are collaborating with the University of Maine on an effort to potentially map out their fishing grounds and prevent conflict with offshore wind-power structures. 

The state of Maine has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and is looking to meet those goals with the help of floating wind-power turbines in the Gulf of Maine.

But some Maine fishermen are concerned that offshore wind development could result in lost fishing grounds and pose significant navigation and safety concerns, according to a news release.

Maine’s lobster fishery accounted for 82% of the value of Maine’s commercial seafood landings in 2021. But there is no solid data on where and when Maine lobstermen fish. Better information about the location, type and intensity of fishing could minimize the impact of the wind turbines on the fishery.

“Right now, published maps suggest that lobster fishing is occurring everywhere,” said Kate Beard-Tisdale, a professor in the School of Computing and Information Science who is leading the project.

“We hope through this effort to provide more spatial specificity about the most important fishing locations — where fishermen spend more time and effort.”

Spatial specificity could result in protecting fishing areas or designating areas best avoided for wind turbine placement, she said.

Beard-Tisdale will work with project partners from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance and its Fisheries Knowledge Trust, as well as the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute. 

The project aims to develop a method to show where harvesting occurs through the year by aggregating navigation and chart plotter data from individual fishermen who have equipment that records a sequence of coordinates and documents where the boat travels.

The project will maintain data confidentiality. 

“Fishermen have a proprietary interest in where they fish and, by extension, in their plotter data, so we want to be really careful in terms of how we anonymize and combine their data such that individual fishing data are not revealed,” Beard-Tisdale said.

Ultimately, the researchers aim to build a software system that will aggregate and parse data from various commercial systems in order for the lobster industry to be able to best inform regional energy development, fishery stock assessments, protected species management and other management issues.

If the project is successful in data collecting and anonymizing, it could help fishermen, scientists and fishery managers further develop fine scale spatial data for use in decision making.

“The Fisheries Knowledge Trust is a really valuable tool, as it provides legal and technical support for fishermen to be the holders and managers of their collective data,” said Beard-Tisdale. 

The trust provides oversight by a board of advisors in the creation of data products. 

“If the idea takes hold, it can extend to give fishermen of all types a more direct voice in marine planning activities,” she said.

The research was one of six projects across the Northeast selected for funding by the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office and Water Power Technologies Office and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The funding is meant to catalyze research for the coexistence of marine energy, including wind, current, tidal and wave energies, with Northeast fishing and coastal communities. Beard-Tisdale’s research was awarded $192,924.

“Individual lobstermen have less bargaining power in these situations of competing for marine space,” she said. “Collectively, by building a database that they can trust, hold and manage, they have a stronger voice for conveying their interests.”

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