What's Happening with Wind Development in the Gulf of Maine?
For over a decade, there have been indications that offshore wind energy development was eventually going to be setting its sights on the Gulf of Maine. Even with all the indicators pointing to something on the horizon, MCFA and the fishing industry were unprepared when the Maine Governor's office announced their intention to apply for the country's first offshore floating wind research array in the Gulf of Maine.
The additional shock of being told that the goal is for a proposal to be submitted in "Early 2021" has left many fishermen scrambling to understand how to engage, where to engage, and how to process the proposal's impact on their lives, businesses, families, and communities.
The Governor's Office has stated that it is taking this action now because there is significant interest in commercial development of offshore renewable energy in the Gulf of Maine, and because it believes the proposed research array is "the right, prudent step to take before commercial-scale floating offshore wind development occurs in the Gulf of Maine".
But where does that leave the fishermen and fishing community who have plied their craft on the Gulf of Maine for generations?
There is a lot to process.
I'm trying not to be hyperbolic, but I don't believe it is an exaggeration to suggest that offshore wind will be the most impactful issue to face Maine's fishing fleet since the transition to limited-entry fishing permits. Carving up the ocean to create energy, not food, is going to be a seismic change to how every fishery, from lobster to tuna to menhaden to scallop to groundfish, has to operate and it will even impact the party/charter, recreational, and pleasure boats who normally have the freedom to move and operate throughout the Gulf of Maine.
This threat is different than most of what the industry has had to struggle with in the past and where we go from here has the ability to change everything.
To start, we need to break this down into a couple of components.
1. Wind energy vs wind energy projects.
Wind energy is a BIG business. We aren't dealing with environmental organizations, passionate nonprofits, or even overzealous managers. The push to put wind out on the Gulf of Maine is coming from businesses like GE, Simmons, Mitsubishi, BP, and Shell. Businesses that know how to grease the skids and make sure a project gets approval.
The projects that we know about right now though are smaller. They are being pushed by UMaine, the Governor's office, and backed by businesses like Mitsubishi who want to do the buildout and run the operation.
2. This is the new normal.
Yes, you hear the term "new normal" a lot when we talk about the pandemic... but things are eventually going to go back to the normal normal for work, play and health. The fight between ocean users and offshore wind is not going to go away. I'd describe this as a marathon, but even a marathon has an end. Offshore wind is going to be a consistent threat to the fishing industry and even if individual project succeed or fail, there will be a next project and the one that comes after that.
We can only deal with projects in front of us right now but the fishing community needs to begin to recognize that win or lose, the fight and need for advocacy is going to continue.
3. The Now.
Right now in the Gulf of Maine there are two projects being proposed. The windmill Monhegan Research Project led by UMaine and Aqua Ventus, and the recent proposal from the Governor's office which is going to be "no more than 12" industrial-scale (10 to 14 mw) turbines 20 to 40 miles off the coast of Maine. The new proposal by the Governor's office is where the industry can and must have a say in what they believe the future of the Gulf of Maine should look like. Industry groups like MCFA, MLA, RODA and the Lobster Union, are working together to make sure fishermen have a voice and aren't left out of the process. We wrote a letter to Governor Mills asking for more time for the industry to engage. We got close to 500 signatures from Maine fishermen on the letter as well as most Maine fishing organizations.
4. Together, We Persevere.
The only way to have a real impact on this process is for the industry to come together. We cannot push a project onto other fishermen, other gear types, or other communities.
We must get educated on the wind siting process and engage every step of the way. Ignoring this threat will not make it go away.
Individual fishermen should consider joining fishing groups and mailing lists to stay updated on what is happening. MCFA, MLA, and RODA are all working to keep you informed.
Monique Coombs is running point on outreach to fishermen for MCFA on this issue. To join our mailing list for offshore wind issues, or if you have a question, reach out to Monique: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RODA Responsible Offshore Development Alliance -a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies committed to improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses.
Learn More about Aqua Ventus Monhegan project.
Learn more about the Governor's Office Research Array Proposal
Governor's office interested party communication list sign-up HERE
View the Chart where the Research Array may go CHART