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Challenge of protecting fisheries, developing wind power

If you crave hard work, often undertaken in bad weather, and are willing to accept a job carrying inherent dangers even when all precautions are followed, a job in which a paycheck can’t be assured but will result from the size of the next “catch” — then the job of commercial fisherman may be for you.

Yet it is also a job that takes place on the beauty of the ocean, which lets you be your own boss in control of your own success or failure, and is about as far from an office cubicle as a person can get.

It’s not a job for everyone, but thankfully it is for some folks because the fruits of their labor provide fresh, healthy and delicious menu choices. Perhaps as importantly, fishermen and lobstermen like those who operate the Town Dock Fleet out of Stonington are part of our heritage. The region is richer for them.

Over the next few days, a series of Day articles, photos and videos will take a closer look at the industry and this way of life.

It is a way of life that always came with exceptional challenges. A new century has added more, even as technology improved.

Quotas on the size of fish catches for certain species — imposed by federal environmental regulators to avoid stock depletion — cut into profits and can force fishermen further asea and in search of different fish. Fishermen told Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas, who has long covered the fleet, that they understand the need for quotas, though they often question the logic and practicality behind some of the details.

Now a new challenge is arriving, the planned development off our shores of large wind farms featuring towering turbines bolted into the ocean floor and connected to land-based power grids by buried cables.

Both during construction and once installed, fishermen are concerned about how the wind farms will affect fishing stocks and their ability to access them, interfere with fishing equipment, disturb marine life, and make navigation more difficult.

Failing to add offshore wind to the nation’s renewable energy portfolio is not a good option, as much as we suspect the Stonington fleet would prefer that outcome. It is sound policy to work to lower carbon emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change. Wind power can be a major contributor to that effort, as can solar if done wisely.

This editorial board also supports the continued use of nuclear power to support emission-free power. But practically speaking, the political backing to support a next generation of nuclear power is lacking, particularly here in the Northeast. This makes the contribution of offshore wind power that much more critically important to the region.

But the commercial fishing industry must have a prominent position in the planning and permitting process. Details of fishing activity should be considered in the positioning of turbines, keeping conflicts between the wind farms and the fisheries to a minimum.

In other jurisdictions, fishing fleets have called for substantial transit corridors for their boats, requests that have sometimes met with resistance from the wind-power industry because they reduce the area for turbine construction. Regulators should err on the side of assuring safe navigation and fishing.

Additionally, construction scheduling should align with fishing seasons.

Continuing research will be critical as wind power moves through the construction phase and into production of power. A six-year study around the 35 turbines that form the Westernmost Rough offshore wind farm — several miles off England’s Holderness coast in the North Sea — found no discernible impact on that area’s rich lobster fishing grounds.

That’s a different sea and a study focusing only on lobsters, so any extrapolation is limited, but the report offers encouraging evidence that the fishing and wind-power industries can co-exist.

Maintaining a commercial fishing industry is important, but so too is expansion of the renewable energy industry. Done right, both priorities can be met.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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