The Interior Department announced on Tuesday, May 25, that two areas off the California coast would be targeted for wind energy projects, including a nearly 400-square-mile wind farm in Morro Bay.

“The offshore wind industry has the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs across the nation, while combating the negative effects of climate change,” U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release.

Commercial fishermen on both coasts continue to be concerned about what the federal push for offshore wind projects means for their jobs. Fishing groups say their feedback has largely been ignored.

“The fishing industry has been told these areas work best for offshore wind developers; but no one
has asked us what areas would work best for us,” said Mike Conroy, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, in a statement released on Tuesday.

Conroy has been active in the commercial fishing industry’s efforts to provide input on East Coast project proposals. He had been hoping for more time to prepare for the federal government’s plans to move forward with West Coast offshore wind energy projects.

Conroy noted that the government has not engaged with fishermen nor conducted fisheries data or spatial planning prior to this announcement, and that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s California task force meeting scheduled for June 24 is poorly timed, as it coincides with the start of the next Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting.

“It is inexcusable that BOEM, who has claimed to engage closely with the council, would schedule a task force meeting during the council’s meeting,” Conroy said. “The fishing community will now have to choose between attending the council meeting and participating in discussions fostering our sustainable fisheries or attending a meeting where they will be told that dire consequences are possible for the fisheries the council manages.”

For stakeholders long participating in the public process on offshore wind investments, this conflict is par for the course.

“Fishermen have shown up for years to ‘engage’ in processes where spatial constraints and, often, the actors themselves are opposed to their livelihood,” according to a letter the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s New York Bight task force, stating it would boycott the meetings in protest.

“This time and effort has resulted in effectively no accommodations to mitigate impacts from individual developers or the supposedly unbiased federal and state governments,” the letter says. “Individuals from the fishing community care deeply, but the deck is so stacked that they are exhausted and even traumatized by this relentless assault on their worth and expertise.”

The federal government claims that, if built as planned, the California projects will generate up to 4.6 gigawatts of energy, enough to power 1.6 million homes.

Conroy’s statement said the PCFFA has concerns about what wind turbines may do to marine ecosystems, as well as what construction of the massive machines may do for fishing stocks.

“Far too many questions remain unanswered regarding potential impacts to marine life, which is dependent on a healthy ecosystem,” he said.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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