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    Saturday, June 10, 2023

    OPINION: Does Orsted/Eversource charter of NL fishing boats violate city lease?

    I don’t think the animosity of New England fishermen toward the big utilities attempting to build offshore wind farms is any great secret.

    Many fishermen resent the interference in the waters they regularly use and suggest still-unknown harm will be done to undersea environments and marine life.

    But I didn’t realize until recently that wind partners Orsted and Eversource actually have a fishing fleet strategy, chartering some fishing boats to “scout” for their wind turbine work in offshore fishing waters.

    One fisherman I met recently, Rob Morsch, claims the big utilities are driving a wedge between fishermen by “buying off” some of them with thousands of dollars in daily charter fees.

    Morsch ― who is locked in a heated dispute with his old partner and the lease holder of the city-owned fishing pier at Fort Trumbull in New London, Gary Yerman of New London Seafood Distributors ― claims he is being forced off the city-owned dock by boats being chartered to the utilities for non-fishing work.

    He says his boat, Mystic Way, needs to be taken to a shipyard in North Carolina for an overhaul of its bottom, but he fears leaving his space in New London and not being able to return.

    Morsch raises the interesting point that the mooring of the boats being used for offshore wind ― he calls them “windmill boats” ― is a violation of the city’s intent, with its low-cost rent, to have a fishing fleet based there.

    Indeed, the $2,500-a-month lease between New London Seafood and the city economic development arm, Renaissance City Development Association, very specifically describes the permitted use of the pier as “the docking of commercial fishing vessels for the purpose of off-loading, processing and shipping of catch.”

    The lease also pointedly says “any vessel not directly used ….. (in) commercial fishing operation shall not be docked at either the pier or stored on the premises.”

    RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis, who was away on vacation this week, arranged to send me a copy of the lease and said he would review the issue when he returns.

    Mayor Michael Passero also told me by email he is looking into the issues.

    Morsch told me that at least two of the boats at Fort Trumbull have been converted to windmill boats and no longer fish. Two others there are being converted from fishing, he said.

    The windmill boats are paid more than $4,000 a day and are also reimbursed for fuel, Morsch said, which he called a rich deal for fishermen.

    Yerman told me that two boats at Fort Trumbull are doing work for the wind utilities but he said they also can and do sometimes fish.

    Yerman said said two other boats docked at Fort Trumbull fish regularly. Morsch claims just one boat there still fishes.

    The lease seems very clear that boats are only supposed to dock there for the purposes of “off-loading” and “shipping” of catch.

    Yerman says he has been operating a fishing business there since before the property was taken by the city by eminent domain. A formal lease was signed in 2018, with the first five-year increment ending this September.

    The rent would go up a few hundred dollars a month if two possible five-year renewals are enacted.

    Meanwhile, Yerman and another fisherman are in a partnership with attorney Gordon Videll, with a company called Sea Services North America, that is brokering the charters between fishermen and the wind turbine building utilities.

    VIdell, when I reached him by phone, said he didn’t have time to comment on the fishing boat business and referred me to Yerman. He would not answer questions about how many boats his company has brokered with the utilities or specifically what they do for them.

    Yerman said their company has arranged leases of six boats in New England, including the two in New London. He would not say how much the utilities pay the fishermen.

    The boats are used as “scouts,” he said, checking, for instance, for fishing gear that might be impacted as the wind-assembly vessels perform tasks like laying cable.

    Morsch says the utilities don’t need the fishing boats they are hiring, and are buying off fishermen and dividing members of the fishing fleets on the issue of offshore wind.

    I reached out to both Orsted and Eversource public relations officials to ask about their hiring of fishing vessels, but no one returned my many emails.

    My guess is that the fishing boat charters, like wind utility donations to Mystic Aquarium, are meant to buy influence and make the wind projects seem friendly to fishermen and good for marine life.

    Apparently it beats responding to emails from inquiring newspaper reporters.

    This is the opinion of David Collins


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