Income from offshore wind leases seen as potential aid to fisheries

BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS) – The Baker administration and the Massachusetts legislature have been enthusiastic about pursuing offshore wind power and preparing the state’s infrastructure to deal with the consequences of climate change, but the Lawmakers last week impressed on the administration the importance of also keeping the state’s historic fishing industry in mind.

“We have taken steps over the past two years to ensure the Commonwealth is a leader in the wind industry. However, I am not insensitive to the fact that some of what we do with wind and renewables is at the expense of one of our oldest professions, which is the fishing industry,” said Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester. Friday during a hearing on the energy and environment portions of Governor Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion budget bill for fiscal year 2023.

Tension between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers has been a common thread as the new industry seeks to establish its roots in the United States. The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, among others, has sued federal agencies claiming that by approving the Vineyard Wind I project, “the United States has shortened the legal and regulatory requirements that were enacted to protect the environmental and natural resources of our nation, its industries and its people.”

Annie Hawkins, executive director of RODA, said the fishing industry supports “strong action on climate change, but not at the expense of the ocean, its people and sustainable national seafood.” The Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, a group of seafood harvesters, processors and wholesalers, has strongly opposed the offshore wind bill the House passed and, in general, any other Beacon plans. Hill to promote and develop the offshore wind industry here.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides told Ferrante during last week’s hearing that the state’s fishing industry — which trailed only Alaska among U.S. states with landings valued at $679.3 million in 2019 – was a priority as the administration sought to expand clean energy resources. by the offshore wind.

“It’s been very important to Governor Baker, to Lt. Governor Polito, and to myself and my team that our oldest marine industry, our fishers and our women, continue to stay strong and be able to use the resource.” , she said. “And balancing those resources is something that a number of countries before us have been able to do very successfully.”

Theoharides said the administration was working to gather more information from the UK and others “on how to properly balance these resources”. Representative Jeff Roy, Chairman of the House Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, also pointed to the UK’s fisheries mitigation efforts as a model for fisheries protection provisions in the Offshore Wind Bill that the House passed earlier this month.

“Most importantly, here in the Commonwealth, we have several fisheries and offshore wind task forces working to fundamentally understand each other and the different challenges and resources that the industry, both industries, need, in particular how to ensure that fishing remains a viable activity. livelihoods in the future and can benefit from offshore wind development itself,” the Secretary said.

Led by high-value sea scallop and lobster fisheries, Massachusetts’ commercial fishing industry hauled in $679.3 million worth of seafood in 2019. Most of that ($451 million ) was landed in New Bedford, which for the 20th consecutive year was the most valued. US port in 2019, according to a National Marine Fisheries Service report released last year. New Bedford is also poised to play a key role in developing offshore wind projects as the primary staging and deployment base for the first two projects in the state pipeline.

A uniform federal approach

But New Bedford’s commercial fishing fleet may soon face greater competition for use of one of its main fishing grounds, the New York Bight. Last month, the federal government raised $4.37 billion by auctioning off six offshore wind lease areas off New York and New Jersey, paving the way for potential wind farms in the New York area. Bight.

Theoharides boosted federal lease sales and the revenue they generated during last week’s ways and means hearing and said it could work well to have billions in new revenue coming in at the same time. while federal officials work to develop mitigation standards for fishing through offshore wind contracts.

“It’s a good time to start talking about additional support that the federal government can provide to this discussion, both from a framework perspective, but also potentially by removing some of the funding for rental areas. specifically as a mitigation opportunity,” she said.

Patrick Woodcock, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, pointed out that money from sales of offshore wind rental areas is currently deposited in the federal treasury without being earmarked for any specific purpose.

“I think as a region we should assess, working with our delegation, if this is really appropriate and assess if there could be mitigation and support in the development of the gear that allows our fishermen , our fisherwomen, to continue to use these sites,” he said.

The commissioner said the Baker administration believes “there should be consistency and create a standardized mitigation process across the East Coast.”

“And further, that those dollars should really be assessed as to who should be compensated for offshore wind development and I think our marine fishing industry would be at the top of the list,” Woodcock said.

Maritime infrastructure

Closer to home, Ferrante told Theoharides that the Baker administration shouldn’t just be thinking about fishing when it comes to offshore wind, but rather how the fishing industry can be part of the effort. of the state to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change and to reduce the state’s harmful carbon emissions.

“When I look at the fishing industry, I see a missed opportunity,” Ferrante said. “And the way I see a missed opportunity is that we have an aging infrastructure. We have vessels that have engines, some of them are over 50 years old. And yet we are rushing to market and about policy to make sure that we invest in electric vehicles and charging stations and that kind of infrastructure, and yet when you look at the fishing industry it’s like looking so far back in time there It’s hard to see that we’re actually modernizing.

Ferrante said the state has aging piers and wharfs that are not ready for rising sea levels, “and yet we’ll be talking about the T all day to make sure we’re making sure that ‘it’s compatible with climate change and the effects of climate change.’ Ferrante said she ‘just wanted to make sure that we put a bug in your ear that we have to do the same with the infrastructure that is on the water”.

Theoharides was receptive to the idea of ​​doing something to ensure the fishing industry is not left behind as the state tackles climate impacts.

“It’s a great thought and idea, and I think maybe we can look at something like our [Agricultural Climate Resiliency & Efficiencies] program through Ag or some of the grants we have to modernize farm equipment as a model of how we might think about helping fisheries modernize the equipment they have and make it both more resilient to climate change, but also to contribute to climate solutions,” the secretary said. “So I really like the idea and would like to talk more about it with you as we move forward.”

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