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How Offshore Wind Farms May Affect Fishing Industry

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The offshore wind industry is poised for massive growth. More than a dozen wind farms are being developed in federal waters off the East Coast. But they face a challenge from a massive existing industry - fishing. Sam Evans-Brown, host of New Hampshire Public Radio's podcast "Outside/In," reports.

SAM EVANS-BROWN, BYLINE: Vineyard Wind is the project farthest along, and it's already behind schedule. One reason - squid.

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JASON JARVIS: The offer on the table is a joke.

EVANS-BROWN: This is Jason Jarvis, fisherman and current president of the Northwestern Atlantic Marine Alliance (ph).

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JARVIS: I think we need to go back to the drawing board on this whole thing. You picked the best squid-fishing grounds on the Eastern Seaboard. If this continues, Rhode Island will not have a commercial fishing industry.

EVANS-BROWN: Feedback like this at a public hearing last year led to a dramatic reversal from the Trump administration. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke highlighted offshore wind as an example of Trump's energy dominance policy. But after he resigned, current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered an additional environmental review. An administration that has touted its record for slashing regulations and speeding up reviews suddenly was slowing things down for a $2 billion clean energy investment. In July, Bernhardt made it clear he's still skeptical.

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DAVID BERNHARDT: In the West, we do wind, all right? You know where we don't put a windmill? You know where we don't put one? - in the middle of a highway.

EVANS-BROWN: He's saying there's too much fishing boat traffic in this area. The fishing industry wants 4-mile-wide transit lanes through the wind farms. But seven wind farm developers have jointly agreed to lay out all of their projects with one mile in between each turbine in every direction. The CEO of Vineyard Wind, Lars Pedersen, says a Coast Guard study backed their proposal.

LARS PEDERSEN: The grid-like layout would create in itself 200 transit lanes through the area. And if you started implementing dedicated transit lanes, that would create a funneling effect that would increase density of fishing vessels in smaller areas and actually increase the risk of collision.

EVANS-BROWN: The fishing industry has demanded a correction of that study, saying it used a bad data source for navigational data. They still see the wind industry as an existential threat. There is a fishing industry that is already living with offshore wind - in Europe. Andrew Gill of Cranfield University says European turbines are much closer together. And while some boats are allowed to fish in between them, not many do.

ANDREW GILL: There's been a reticence to do it, which is really down to uncertainty and lack of knowledge of sort of, you know, is it safe to go in there? What's on the books on the seabed under there? How am I going to lose my gear? What happens if I collide with a turbine? Whose fault is it?

EVANS-BROWN: He says the wind farms attract fish and appear to offer something of a refuge for them. But it's too soon to say how their presence has affected the catch. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is moving ahead with the approval process, and a whole new set of workers is chomping at the bit for U.S. wind farms to get started.

ZIVEN DRAKE: The potential for green energy in the offshore wind industry is immense.

EVANS-BROWN: Ziven Drake is a union diver and an instructor with the Local 56 Pile Drivers Union in Boston. And if the wind farms do start to go up, the first job - setting the foundations - will go to them.

DRAKE: And I talked to a lot of our divers - our newer diver apprentices who are coming out of dive school. And the option to go work on an oil rig is always there, but they're not looking to do that. They're not thrilled about oil and gas.

EVANS-BROWN: So one legacy industry is eager to work with offshore wind. The question is whether the fishing industry can make their peace as well.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Evans-Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF OSKAR SCHUSTER'S "FJARLAEGUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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