By Henry Schneider, senior communications associate, Stove Boat Communications
In April 2019, the Embassy of the United Kingdom and the state of New York brought two veteran British fishermen across the Atlantic Ocean to speak about their experiences working with offshore wind developers. While offshore wind is relatively new to the United States, with just one wind farm and 30 MW of capacity, the industry has exploded in Europe, with over 100 wind farms and more than 22,000 MW of capacity.
The British fishermen described an early disagreement: an offshore wind developer had done its surveys and determined the placement of a transmission cable, even though this meant laying the cable over a hard rock cliff where it would be exposed to damage and interfere with longstanding fishing activity. The fishermen recognized that this placement would be bad for both industries, hurting the cable’s longevity and creating a potential snag for fishing activity. The two industries hit the drawing board and found an alternative plan: the fishermen knew of nearby soft bottom ocean habitat where the cable could be buried, reducing the developer’s risk and preserving fishing in the area.
Issues like these are ones where fishermen’s knowledge of the seas they have worked on their whole lives – and previous generations worked on before them – can be invaluable, both for maintaining their livelihoods as offshore wind farms are constructed in or around fishing grounds, and for helping developers make the best decisions for their wind businesses.
It was in this spirit that in 2018, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) was formed. Comprised of fishing industry members from every Atlantic coastal state from North Carolina to Maine, as well as Pacific coast members in California, Oregon and Washington, RODA works directly with developers, regulators, scientists and other experts to promote coexistence between the offshore wind industry and fishing communities. To minimize conflicts with commercial fishing, RODA is committed to applying scientific and evidenced approaches to the expanding U.S. offshore wind industry.
Although there is only one U.S. offshore wind farm currently in operation and located in state waters, 16 sites have been leased throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic, with additional sites proposed in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Offshore wind development is also complicated by the sheer number of developers, fishery sectors and regulators in play. On the regulatory side alone, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the U.S. Coast Guard, regional fishery management councils and state agencies all have some jurisdiction over offshore wind and fisheries interactions. With so many different groups involved, RODA’s ability to speak with a unified voice on behalf of the fishing industry is critical to the process.
One of RODA’s most important projects – conceived during a meeting between RODA and Ørsted leadership in 2019 – is its Joint Industry Task Force with wind developers, a first-of-its-kind initiative created to improve direct communications between the two industries. In addition to RODA’s fishing members, the task force consists of wind developers Ørsted, Equinor, Vineyard Wind, Mayflower, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, Avangrid and EnBW, comprising almost every offshore wind leaseholder on the Atlantic coast. The driving concept behind the task force is to take the best lessons learned from all regions — like the British cable example — apply them early and often, and continually improve upon them to reduce risk for both industries.
“The Joint Industry Task Force is bringing the offshore wind and fishing industries together to pool their knowledge in a way that’s never been attempted before,” said Peter Hughes, RODA’s Chairman and Director of Sustainability at Atlantic Capes Fisheries. “It’s groundbreaking work.”
The task force first convened in June 2019 to determine how the industries could best work together and finalize a charter, with principles including promoting coexistence, identifying areas of conflict and cooperating to identify solutions, and ensuring fishing representation in the offshore wind process. Last October, the task force co-convened a Joint Industry Educational Forum in Warwick, Rhode Island — a two-day informational exchange in which fishermen, developers, state leaders and regulators presented on everything from U.S. fisheries law to the physical components of a wind project to fish stock assessment surveys. More recently, the task force prepared a joint letter to BOEM on draft navigation guidelines and created a survey for mariner input on what kinds of navigational aids would benefit them most, from lighting and markings on turbines to AIS (automatic identification systems) to sound signals.
“From our experience in other regions around the world, we believed that creating a forum made up of a broad fishing geographic and gear type representation, alongside of offshore wind developers, only leads to better communication and outcomes for both industries,” said John O’Keeffe, Head of Marine Affairs for Ørsted. “We must still maintain strong direct ties with other regional fishing organizations and state and federal agencies, but having a national body can be extremely helpful. We won’t agree on everything, but solid outcomes and practical solutions can be achieved.”
In many ways just as important as the concrete developments that have emerged from the task force is the collaborative space that has resulted for both industries to work together. Through the task force, wind developers have an on-going and regular means to inquire about commercial fishing ideas and concerns, and vice versa. Some task force members have even engaged RODA in site-specific, detailed layout meetings on their wind projects – something that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened before the task force brought the two industries into closer collaboration.
“One thing the fishing industry has learned from the task force is that not all offshore wind developers relate to the U.S. commercial fishing industry the same way,” said Annie Hawkins, RODA’s Executive Director. “And I think the dialogue of the task force has provided offshore wind developers with a much deeper appreciation of the significant differences of needs across our different fisheries.”
There remain plenty of issues to be resolved as offshore wind moves forward in the United States. As relationships continue to grow and trust evolves, task force participants hope that early identification of potential conflicts and adaptive learning once projects begin operations will minimize conflict in the future. Structured communications can assist in identifying and de-risking potential issues long before they become entrenched sources of conflict.
For example, some fisheries are managed on a “days at sea” basis whereby fishermen are allotted a certain number of days to make their catch – without fishing input, developers wouldn’t have known that spending extra time transiting offshore wind areas can directly impact how much fishermen are able to catch.
Other fisheries use low-altitude spotter planes that radio down to fishing boats where to go to catch schools of fish. These planes wouldn’t be able to fly through large wind energy areas. In others, such as tuna fisheries in several regions, fishermen who have traditionally pursued their catch by following birds are concerned about potential disturbances.
Through initiatives like the Joint Industry Task Force, RODA is able to bring the fishing industry’s knowledge and concerns directly to wind developers early in the process. And because of the open channels of communication created by the task force, the industries have the ability to collaborate on solutions early to avoid confrontation later on. As offshore wind becomes a major player in the U.S. energy system, this is the type of win-win work that must occur to ensure the industry is successful and historic U.S. commercial fishing communities are able to continue their way of life.
Henry Schneider is the senior communications associate at Stove Boat Communications, where he advises organizations across the U.S. commercial fishing sector, including RODA.