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Small-scale fishermen sound the alarm at plans for offshore wind farms 

"There's so many things going against you as a commercial fisherman in the United States. And now these wind farms, it's almost like that's the final nail in the coffin."

In this Aug. 15, 2016, file photo, a lift boat, right, that serves as a work platform, assembles a wind turbine off Block Island, R.I. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Offshore wind developments could save residents billions in energy costs down the line, but small-scale fishermen are calling out our limited understanding of how they could impact fishing and marine habitats.

Vineyard Wind, a development off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, is a key part of President Joe Biden’s renewable energy plan. The 800-megawatt project would be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters, and is anticipated to cost nearly $3 billion. According to the project website, it will “generate clean, renewable, affordable energy for over 400,000 homes and businesses” in Massachusetts and reduce carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year.

MORE ON VINEYARD WIND

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a coalition of fishing groups and businesses, told the Associated Press in May that the growth of offshore wind developments could make it difficult to harvest species like scallops, lobsters, squid, and more.

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“For the past decade, fishermen have participated in offshore wind meetings whenever they were asked and produced reasonable requests only to be met with silence,” said Anne Hawkins, RODA’s executive director. “From this silence now emerges unilateral action and a clear indication that those in authority care more about multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or U.S. citizens.”

A recent WBUR piece dove into the issue, profiling David Aripotch, 65, an independent, regional fisherman. He’s been fishing for almost 50 years – he bought his first boat in high school – and has weathered changes in fishing quotas and the many expenses of running his operation.

“There’s so many things going against you as a commercial fisherman in the United States,” he said. “And now these wind farms, it’s almost like that’s the final nail in the coffin.”

Aripotch is concerned about where the turbines go and how far apart they are. For example, the Vineyard Wind project sits in an area commonly fished for longfin squid and scallops and, after an extensive community process, will place turbines one nautical mile apart. 

Aripotch’s net can trail up to 1,500 feet behind the boat, and shredded nets are expensive to replace. One nautical mile is equal to about 6,000 feet, but he thinks maneuvering around a turbine would be nearly impossible. 

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“They’re talking about putting the majority of this garbage in that area, and I need all the grounds I got now to make a living,” Aripotch told WBUR. “To say that we can just fish in the wind farms, that’s a fallacy. It is not going to happen.”

Hawkins told the Guardian in July that RODA has seen less engagement with fisherman since the start of the Biden administration. 

“It certainly has the appearance of [developers] thinking they’re going to be all right no matter what,” she said. “The fishing industry feels very strongly that they still do not have a meaningful voice in the process nor an authentic seat at the table.”

Fishermen also point to the lack of research into the long-term effects of wind development on the ocean environment, such as construction noise driving fish away, foundations becoming  artificial reefs that alter species distribution, and altering the mid-Atlantic “cold pool,” a large swath of cold water near the seafloor that allows numerous species to thrive.

Aran Mooney, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, told the Guardian that the long-term environmental impacts of large offshore wind developments have not been well researched in the U.S.

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“There is an OK amount of research funding going into this, but there certainly needs to be more to get at these bigger questions,” Mooney said.

Though current regulations will allow fishing around wind developments, fishermen are worried they are just one boat wreck away from a ban and believe the government has underestimated the value of fishing grounds to get on with projects.

“Many fishermen will not see a big impact, but fishermen who do may see a very large impact,” Chris McGuire, director of the marine program of the Nature Conservancy’s Massachusetts chapter, told WBUR. “That’s a hard part about this. You hear disparate opinions. And I think this is one of those situations where they’re all true depending on where you sit.”

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