Offshore wind lease income seen as potential fishing aid


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BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)– The Baker administration and the Massachusetts Legislature have been gung-ho about pursuing offshore wind power and preparing the state’s infrastructure to deal with the consequences of climate change, but lawmakers last week impressed upon the administration the importance of keeping the state’s historic fishing industry in mind as well.

“We’ve been taking steps over the past couple of years to make sure that the commonwealth is a leader in the wind industry. However, I’m not insensitive to the fact that some of what we’re doing on wind and with renewables comes to the expense of one of our oldest professions, which is the fishing industry,” Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester said Friday during a hearing of the energy and environment portions of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $48.5 billion fiscal year 2023 budget bill.

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

Annie Hawkins, executive director of RODA, said that the fishing industry supports “strong action on climate change, but not at the expense of the ocean, its inhabitants, and sustainable domestic seafood.” The Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, a group of seafood harvesters, processors and wholesalers, has come out in stout opposition to the offshore wind bill the House has passed and generally any other Beacon Hill plans to promote and grow 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 — has been top of mind as the administration has sought to expand clean energy resources through offshore wind.

“It has been very important to Gov. Baker, to Lt. Gov. Polito, and myself and my team that our oldest maritime industry, our fishermen and women, continue to stay strong and be able to use the resource,” she said. “And balancing these resources is something that a number of countries who have gone ahead of us have been able to do quite successfully.”

Theoharides said the administration is working to gather more information from the United Kingdom and others “about how to balance these resources correctly.” Rep. Jeff Roy, House chairman of the 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 the House passed earlier this month.

“More importantly, here in the commonwealth, we have several fisheries and offshore wind working groups that are working to understand basically each other and the different challenges and what resources the industry, both industries, need, particularly how to ensure that fishing remains a viable livelihood going forward and can benefit from offshore wind development itself,” the secretary said.

Led by high-value sea scallop and lobster fisheries, the commercial fishing industry in Massachusetts 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 highest valued U.S. port in 2019, according to a National Marine Fisheries Service report released last year. New Bedford is also primed to play a key role in the development of offshore wind projects as the primary staging and deployment base for the first two projects in the state’s pipeline.

A Uniform Federal Approach

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

Theoharides raised the federal lease sales and the revenue they generated during last week’s Ways and Means hearing and said it could work out well to have billions in new revenue coming in at the same time that federal officials are working to develop standards for fisheries mitigation through offshore wind contracts.

“It’s a good moment to start talking about additional support the feds can bring into this discussion, both from a framework perspective but also potentially carving off some of the funding from the lease areas specifically as a mitigation opportunity,” she said.

Patrick Woodcock, the commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources, pointed out that the money raised from offshore wind lease area sales currently is deposited into the federal treasury without being earmarked for a specific purpose.

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

The commissioner said the Baker administration thinks “that there should be consistency and create a standardized mitigation process throughout the eastern seaboard.”

“And furthermore, that these dollars should really be assessed of who should be compensated for the development of offshore wind and I think at the top of the list would be our maritime fishing industry,” Woodcock said.

Marine Infrastructure

Closer to home, Ferrante told Theoharides that the Baker administration should not just think about fisheries as they relate to offshore wind, but rather how the fishing industry can be part of the state’s overall efforts to become more resilient against climate change impacts and to reduce the state’s damaging 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 aging infrastructure. We have vessels that have engines in them, some of them are over 50 years old. And yet, we make a rush to market and to policy to make sure that we’re investing in electric vehicles and charging stations and that type of infrastructure, and yet when you look at the fishing industry, it’s like looking so far in the past it’s hard to see that we’re actually modernizing.”

Ferrante said the state has aging piers and wharves that are not prepared to deal with rising sea levels, “and yet, we’ll talk about the T all day long in terms of making sure that we make sure that it is consistent with climate change and the effects of climate change.” Ferrante said she “just want to make sure that we’re putting a bug in your ear that we need to be doing the same thing with the infrastructure that’s on the water.”

Theoharides was receptive to the idea of doing something to make sure the fishing industry is not left behind as the state addresses climate impacts.

“That’s a great thought and idea, and I think we may be able to look at something like our [Agricultural Climate Resiliency & Efficiencies] program through Ag or some of the grants we have to modernize farming equipment as a model for 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 like the idea a lot and I’d love to talk with you further about that as we move forward.”

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