Diving deep into the challenges and opportunities between offshore wind energy and commercial fisheries (from a boat)

Climate change is arguably the greatest obstacle facing fisheries in the United States. We’ve seen this through the spike in whale entanglements in California Dungeness crab gear from 2015-2017 when a climate-related warm water event — known as “the Blob” — pushed whale migration patterns and commercial crabbers into the same waters at the same time. The iconic Maine lobster is migrating north to adapt to warming seas, warm rivers and droughts are causing die offs in Pacific salmon streams, and in tropical areas nearshore ecosystems are fundamentally changing as corals die in bleaching events.

The United States has arguably the most robust fisheries science and management approaches in the world, but climate change is causing oceanographic and ecosystem changes that are making scientists, policymakers, fishers to quickly rethink how sustainable fisheries are managed. But, as we know, the climate threat isn’t confined to fisheries. To combat the worst effects of climate change, the U.S. government is looking to the ocean as a source of carbon-free energy through the development of offshore wind farms. There is currently only one active offshore wind facility in the U.S., but the Biden administration has pledged 30,000 megawatts off offshore wind energy generation by 2030.

The fishing industry — with exception — has become an outspoken critic of offshore wind development. The belief is expediated planning for offshore projects will push fishers off the fishing grounds they use to earn a living and squeeze them out of their home ports by the offshore wind industry. Many in the fishing industry argue that their voices have often only been heard in the final phases of current plans for offshore wind development.

My CBE Summer Fellowship is different than what’s instore for most of my classmates at the Middlebury Institute. My project isn’t with an outside organization or agency but directly with the CBE, working on a report to assessing the challenges, opportunities, and previously successful strategies deployed in Europe in the face of opposition from fishing groups as they began offshore wind development more than a decade ago.

My schedule and location are also different. I’m currently in Bristol Bay about to start fishing for sockeye salmon, before going to Southeast Alaska to fish for salmon, halibut, and sablefish. Through more than a decade on the water, I’ve witnessed the effects of climate change in Alaskan fisheries. I wrote about one instance of a sockeye salmon mass die off in a lethally hot river in Bristol Bay for Hakai Magazine.

During my time on and off the water this summer, I am conducting a literature review peer-reviewed articles and gray papers on offshore wind development and commercial fisheries. I’m analyzing offshore wind policy in the U.S., with a specific eye to stakeholder engagement. I am also creating a survey that will be sent to commercial fishers in the U.S. to better understanding of their personal views on climate change, offshore wind, and how their concerns can be addressed.

As one ocean economist and Middlebury Institute professor told me, “there is no win-win solution,” between offshore wind development and the commercial fishing industry. I want to be clear eyed about this going forward. I’m approaching this research as someone from within the commercial fishing industry and as proponent of the need for offshore. This is an uncommon perspective and one I hope can assess they challenges and opportunities we face looking toward the ocean for renewable wind energy.

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