Workers from the federal office in charge of leasing offshore lands to wind farms knew they were facing a skeptical audience when they traveled to Montauk Tuesday morning to discuss their leasing program with Montauk fishermen.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for the leasing of lands to Deepwater Wind, which is building a small demonstration wind farm of the coast of Block Island and plans to build a bigger wind farm, which could be the first in the country, 30 miles offshore from Montauk.
Those leases are already in place, and BOEM is currently looking for feedback from New York fishermen on two other Atlantic areas that could be used for wind production, including one near the New York Bight off the southwestern coast of Long Island and one off the coast of New Jersey.
The meeting served as the opening session for a three-day long meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in Montauk. Though only four people RSVP’d for the session before it began, the room was packed with fishermen who took a mixed view on offshore wind.
BOEM’s Renewable Energy Program Manager Maureen Bornholdt told the crowd of fishermen who gathered in the Montauk Yacht Club Tuesday morning that, though the leases for Deepwater Wind are already in place, there are still several phases of data gathering and analysis that must be done by the developers before the project is built.
Captain Joe McBride of the Montauk Boatman’s and Captain’s Association said his group wants to give BOEM a chart of important fishing and transit areas to help them avoid political roadblocks while running the electric cables and building the turbines.
“We support sound renewable energy,” he said. “It will bring new jobs and industry into New York State. It would be to your advantage to know what areas are important to us.”
Ms. Bornholdt said BOEM and the Coast Guard do not try to keep fishermen out of areas where wind turbines are built, but they do provide guidelines to keep fishermen safe when traveling through the areas.
NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region Administrator John Bullard, a former mayor of New Bedford, Mass., said fishermen already deal with many cables in the water, and he’s heartened to see that they’re looking for input from fishermen.
“The fishing industry is counting on you to protect their interests,” he said, adding that he’d recently attended a Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council conference on climate change in Washington, D.C.
“It’s not a pretty picture for anyone who cares about the marine environment,” he said of climate change. “We need renewable energy. The key is siting.”
Former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, an ichthyologist, said research has shown that the world’s largest concentration of wind farms, in the North Sea off the European coast, kills 570,000 birds and 600,000 bats each year.
“These are not passive machines put in by unicorns and fairies,” said Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady. “They’re blasted in 70 meters, and the scouring behind the windmills is creating killing zones.”
“No one can hear the fish scream,” she said. “You could be creating little killing zones.”
Justin Kirkpatrick of the National Marine Fisheries Service gave a presentation on the fisheries that would be affected by the newly proposed turbine sites. He presented several maps of the catch and the dollar value of the catch using gear ranging from gillnets to lobster and other pots, sea scallops, surf clams and ocean quahogs.
In those fisheries, he said, 65 out of 649 fishing permit holders landed $821,000 worth of fish from areas that are being considered for wind energy. Of those, just eight permit holders made most of their income from within the wind energy areas.
Trawler David Aripotch said the data didn’t take the groundfishing industry into account. He said trawlers work the grounds proposed for the wind turbine sites precisely because there are no structures in the ocean there now.
“This is going to put hundreds of people out of business,” he said. “This is a pie-in-the-sky idea at best. The area by the city is heavy squid grounds. They’re not a quota’d industry. Are they going to still spawn there with electric lines in the water?”
Ms. Brady added that if the turbines kill or change the spawning patterns of groundfish, fishermen throughout the region will face more stringent quotas.
“There’s a huge by-catch issue,” she said. “Overfishing on groundfish will occur.”
Ms. Bornholdt said her offshore renewable energy regulatory program, which is still in its infancy, has not yet set guidelines for what types of concerns would lead them to not proceed with projects.
“We’re trying to figure out the regulatory program,” she said. “That’s as honest as I can be with you.”
East Hampton Town historian and fisherman Stuart Vorpahl said the renewable energy industry had much to learn from the oil industry’s history off the coast of Long Island.
“Forty years ago, the oil industry came up here like gangbusters,” he said. “They found the biggest problem here was they had to give up because they’d never encountered such sea conditions and tidal problems.”
“There’s a lot of fuss and feathers here that might turn out to be nothing,” he added.