November 20, 2020
Governor Mills’ announcement that her administration plans to move forward with an offshore wind research array off southern Maine was not welcome news for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA). The MLA recently wrote to Governor Mills expressing the Association’s concerns about the growing interest in offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine and its potential to negatively impact Maine’s fishing industry.
In its letter, the MLA wrote, “Prior to any plan for siting offshore wind development or lease solicitation in the Gulf of Maine, it is imperative that the state take action to ensure clear and transparent communications, a robust stakeholder process, and a commitment to address the lack of data on what these projects will mean for marine ecosystems and the many fishing communities along our coast.” Friday’s abrupt announcement of a plan to apply to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for a permit for this research array reflects negatively on the Governor’s intentions concerning transparent communication and a truly open stakeholder process.
Further, the MLA has raised concerns over the submission of bids for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine that have not been solicited by BOEM, with input from the Gulf of Maine states through the BOEM’s Gulf of Maine Ocean Energy Task Force. The GOM Task Force was formed precisely to allow the states to plan for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. The Governor’s announcement flies directly in the face of the Task Force’s purpose.
Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have not yet developed a shared vision and collaborative plan for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. Instead of taking a holistic approach to plan how and where offshore wind projects in the GOM would best be sited, the Governor’s precipitous action will initiate a piecemeal approach among the states, one that will have much greater cumulative impacts on the region’s fishing industry.
Governor Mills’ approach circumvents meaningful engagement with stakeholders, especially the very fishermen whose livelihoods will be directly impacted.
“If the state of Maine can apply for a research lease, what is to prevent other states and developers from applying for larger commercial-scale leases in the Gulf of Maine?” asked Patrice McCarron, MLA’s executive director. “In a tightly knit region such as the Gulf of Maine, it only makes sense to take a regional approach to offshore wind, rather than race to be the first to plant a flag in the water. This precipitous action could effectively cut the fishing industry out of the early planning and siting process and leave many fishermen at risk of losing their livelihoods.”
While there remain many unknowns about this project, the MLA has three pressing concerns with the state’s offshore wind research array proposal.
Research Funding. As far as is known at the moment, the state has not allocated any research funding or outlined a research plan for the proposed offshore wind “research array.”
Timing. The state has said that it intends to file its application for the research array lease site with BOEM in early 2021. As fishermen are independent business owners who spend much time at sea, an inclusive stakeholder process that leverages their expertise is challenging in the best of times. A rushed process initiated at the start of the holiday season and during a pandemic will be exponentially more difficult given the complexity of the issue and the lack of science to understand its impacts.
Siting. The state has not yet revealed its assessment of potential sites based on its preliminary analysis. There are many significant fishing grounds located from 20 to 40 miles in the southern half of the state. The lobster fishery is highly territorial and also state regulations strictly limit the extent to which lobstermen can shift gear away from their home lobster zone. Losing a 16 square mile footprint could cause significant economic hardship to many in the Maine fishing industry.
The MLA recognizes the problem of climate change and the need to pursue aggressive solutions. However, offshore wind development is not the panacea for our collective dependence on fossil fuel. In fact, it may very well be a Pandora’s box of ills for the fishing industry.
“There is a lot of talk about potential for offshore wind to strengthen Maine’s economy,” noted McCarron. “I certainly hope no one believes that jobs in the renewable energy sector can replace the livelihoods of fishermen in quantity or character. Keep in mind that Maine’s fishing industry has successfully supported thousands of quality jobs, produced healthy food for our nation, and sustained Maine’s coastal communities, large and small, for hundreds of years.”
The MLA stands ready to work with the Mills administration. But first there must be a robust stakeholder process that involves fishermen well before decisions such as this one are made that allows their concerns to be both heard and addressed. This rush to “develop” the Gulf of Maine is preemptory and will not succeed without the input and support of the state’s fishermen.