Fishermen question the data behind offshore wind siting process

Willis Spear, a lobsterman from Yarmouth speaks during the fishing community gathering to give federal officials feedback about offshore wind power development on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Aldie Leeman has fished or lobstered in the Gulf of Maine for about 58 years, first as a boy lobster off Orr’s Island and now traveling the length of the area in long, five-day stretches about 100 miles off the coast as a Massachusetts ground fisherman.

He ran his index finger in a broad arc along a fishing data map prepared by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that was colored mostly light blue and green. According to the map legend, that means the area is lightly fished, which might make it a suitable location for a floating wind turbine.

“Your green areas and your blue areas, it’s where I live,” Leeman told BOEM Monday officials during an engagement meeting with fishermen about potential wind leasing areas. “You don’t want to put those in my backyard. You want to put those in my living room. It’s pretty upsetting.”

The meeting was the first of five meetings that BOEM plans to hold with Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire fishermen during its latest phase of trying to find 2 million acres in the Gulf of Maine to lease to wind energy developers that least impacts national security, industry, fisheries and natural resources.

This meeting – and the ones that will be held in Ellsworth Tuesday and Rockport Wednesday – was to ask fishermen to comment on the data BOEM has collected to assess the fishing value of different sections of the Gulf of Maine. The fishermen at Monday’s meeting trashed the maps.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told BOEM it was using the same flawed data that federal regulators had used when calculating the industry’s impact on endangered North Atlantic right whales. That flawed data had just helped MLA and others win a critical legal victory.

For years, the Maine lobstering industry has not been required to submit detailed records on where they fish, so any data used to inform where the country’s most valuable fishery is actually occurring out in the Gulf of Maine is essentially incomplete, McCarron said.

Only recently has the Maine lobster industry moved to 100 percent reporting, which means that all state licensed lobstermen, and not just 10 percent as it had been before, must submit log books saying where they fish. In 2024, lobstermen will have electronic monitors on their boats as ground fishermen do.

McCarron led a chorus of fishermen urging BOEM to use that data to help them pick possible lease sites.

Matt Gilley, a commercial fisherman from Cundy’s Harbor speaks during the community gathering to give federal officials feedback about offshore wind power development on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

David and Susan Duncan of Phippsburg both support the idea of ​​offshore wind, saying they want to help Maine wean itself off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, but say they think it should be done carefully and with as little impact on fishermen as possible if it is to succeed.

BOEM tries to reassure the crowd by telling them that it could always reject a developer’s proposal if the lobstering data eventually showed a lease site was also a prime lobstering area. David Duncan warned a reversal like that would likely send developers to court to defend their investment.

Other fishermen worried that the maps did not show the impact of the transmission cabling that would run between the turbines and connect the project as a whole to the mainland. Officials said that was an issue to be decided by another agency, but fishermen said someone needed to consider the total impact.

Maine has a long, complex relationship with efforts to harness the power of strong, ocean-borne wind in the Gulf of Maine to generate electricity. He wants to reap the economic benefits of President Biden’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030 without harming Maine fishermen.

Researchers believe the Gulf of Maine is the right place to prove the floating wind-turbine platforms tech can work. Fishermen worry about how planting floating wind turbines, and the transmission cabling that connects them to one another and to shore, in prime fishing waters will affect the state’s catch.

The crowd listens during a meeting hosted by BOEM seeking feedback from the fishing community about offshore wind power development on Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Several proposals are pending. The Governor’s Energy Office wants to lease an area about 45 miles from Portland to build the nation’s first floating offshore wind research project. A developer is partnering with the University of Maine to build an offshore commercial-size floating wind turbine.

And the state may turn part of Sears Island, off Searsport, into a turbine assembly and service center.

All require a massive build-out of the state’s infrastructure. Wind turbines would have to float in the golf because the waters are too deep to anchor them to the seabed. The proposal to build the commercial-size floating wind turbine project might be scrapped because it’s too large, complicated and expensive.

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