The fishing industry is worried the first offshore wind farm to come online in the U.S. will ruin their way of life and kill jobs.
An offshore wind turbine three miles off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, will kill large numbers of fish and potentially drive hundreds of small coastal enterprises out of business, according to a fishing industry representative. Fishermen fear offshore wind turbines will continue to pop up along Atlantic Coast, eventually make it impossible to be a commercial fisherman.
“This will absolutely cost jobs in the U.S.,” Bonnie Brady, director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If New York Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s administration gets what it wants from offshore wind that’s thousands of fishing jobs. It’ll rip the coastal communities apart.”
Deepwater Wind (DW) powered up a nearby island from the Block Island turbines Tuesday. DW says it created 300 local jobs during the wind turbine construction process at Block Island.
Brady says New York’s government is willfully ignoring fishing jobs in favor of the wind industry and thinks the consequences of Cuomo’s policy could spread economic devastation to fishermen well beyond the state.
“It’s not only New York jobs either, fishermen travel huge distances to fish off New York,” Brady said. “A Virginian fisherman could come up to New York to fish for scallops. The number one profitable fishing port in the nation is right around here and it’s for scallops. Another squid fishery would be heavily impacted by offshore wind. You’ve got scallops, fluke, squid, herring, flounders and they all hang out in these areas.”
The Block Island turbines are just the first offshore wind turbines to be installed. Cuomo committed the state of New York to using huge amounts of wind power 2030 in a State of the State speech in January, much of which the governor intends to generate using offshore wind.
“We’re having our traditional fishing grounds usurped by offshore wind energy,” Brady said. “We as stakeholders have been left out of the process by Obama’s Interior Department.”
“Block Island has messed up gill netters and trawlers,” Brady said. “They’re not going to certain areas because of its risk to the boat. The five turbines they put in place there are ruining one of the most productive bottoms around.”
Estimates from the liberal Brookings Institution suggest the U.S. fishing industry supports 1.5 million jobs and generated $90 billion annually.
“These are great jobs,” Brady told TheDCNF. “You can make a really good living working on a fishery. It is a solidly middle-class life and a really good trades-job. We have more growth potential for fishing jobs in the U.S. than anywhere else, but we’re being removed from our fishing grounds because of offshore wind.”
Brady became involved in fisheries management issues after marrying a fisherman. She has been repeatedly told by wind power companies to catch fish “somewhere else” if offshore turbines are such a problem.
“As fishermen we follow the fish,” Brady said “The fish move around but there are specific areas of the ocean where they go depending on the time of year and their migration. When a wind turbine stakes claim to a section of the ocean and says ‘you’ll just have to go somewhere else’ they miss the fundamental truth of our industry. We can’t go somewhere else if the fish aren’t there.”
Although proponents allege offshore wind farms are good for the environment, wind farms can be deadly for fish and other marine life and will ruin the fishing industry, Brady said.
DW plans to use loud pile driving to anchor the windmill to the seabed. Water magnifies sounds, and so underwater the pile driving noise can reach levels up to 220 decibels, according to Brady. To put that in perspective, 150 decibels of sound can burst human eardrums, and 185 to 200 decibels is the range usually considered to be the threshold for causing human death.
“Biologically these things are a nightmare,” Brady said. “The only green about this project is that which lines investors pockets.
The sheer loudness of building the turbines can maim and kill fish. The noise produced when building the turbines poses a particular danger for fish with an organ highly sensitive to acoustics called a swim bladder, which adjusts a fish’s level of buoyancy and determines whether it floats or sinks.
“There are a lot of fish in that area that needs to be able to hear in order to communicate, but the sound levels of the normal operations of Block Island may be too loud for them to breed,” Brady said.
“Piledriving the ocean floor kills fish through pressure waves or by messing with their swim bladder,” Brady said. “The sound is super loud and can mess with marine mammals and fish. They take a 25-foot wide hammer and beat turbines two hundred feet into the ocean floor.”
Construction and ordinary operations noises from the turbines can travel immense distances under water. This harms whales, dolphins, marine mammals, and fish which communicate with noises in order to breed. For this reason, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) guidelines show that high noise levels can cause marine mammals like whales and dolphins to go deaf and disrupt their vocal communications.
“The experience at the Block Island Wind Farm demonstrates that offshore wind and fishing can and do coexist in the ocean,” Jeff Grybowski, DW’s CEO, told TheDCNF.
Building turbines also damages the ocean floor and the habitat of fish, making it much harder to be a fisherman.
“The widespread sedimentation and silt kills larvae, young fish, destroys benthic habitat and in some cases permanently alters it,” said Brady, citing a scientific study by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency to back up her claim. “Submerged cables emit low-level electromagnetic frequency and magnetic fields that repel certain fish (cod), attract others (elasmobranchs-sharks and skates), and affect migratory patterns and the ability to source food if dependent on electric cue for prey.”
“Fishing continues to thrive at the Block Island Wind Farm without interruption,” Grybowski said. “In fact, there is evidence that fishing activity near the wind farm has increased because the presence of these new structures in the ocean attracts sea life. There is no restriction on fishing near the project.”
DW has a commitment to environmentally responsible development on its website, claiming it takes action to protect endangered whales and other marine mammals during all of its pre-construction and construction activities.
“As pioneers of the offshore wind industry here in the United States, we take our commitment to be a leader in responsible energy development very seriously,” says a statement on DW’s website. “Deepwater Wind ensures that for each project under development, wildlife, the environment, or other users of the ocean won’t be adversely impacted.”
The American Wind Energy Association did not return requests for comment to TheDCNF on what these actives included or how they were addressing the concerns of fishermen about offshore wind.
When fully implemented, offshore wind is expected to cost four to six times more than traditional fossil-fuel based plants, according to Brady.
Offshore wind power is expensive because installing and maintaining any kind of infrastructure underwater is extremely difficult. The salt water of the ocean is incredibly corrosive and makes operating such facilities difficult and expensive.