Commercial Fishermen Have Questions, Concerns About West Coast Offshore Wind

A wind turbine at Hywind Tampen, an offshore wind farm developed by Equinor. Photo: Karoline Rivero Bernacki/Equinor.

Although offshore wind projects are common along the East Coast, the West Coast has yet to see any turbines dot the horizon. That’s likely to change in the coming years, however, as the waters have been opened up in California by the federal government.

Plans for floating systems are in the works, as well as land-side support facilities. Although the process is moving forward, fishermen still have concerns, and more questions than answers.

In 2021, several federal departments announced a shared goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy in the U.S. by 2030. And in 2022, President Biden followed that up with another objective: 15 GW of floating offshore wind (OSW) energy by 2035.

The first offshore wind lease sale in the Pacific Ocean took place in December 2022. It was also the first U.S. sale to support potential commercial-scale floating OSW energy development. On the West Coast, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has identified potential OSW areas offshore from California and Oregon.

However, there has been notable and vocal opposition from professional mariners, fishermen, environmentalists and politicians. The main concerns are related to interference in key fishing areas, loss of fishing opportunities, navigational and vessel traffic, entanglement with cables, lack of meaningful engagement and incorporation of public input, diminished upwellings and disruption to productive coastal ecosystems and marine mammals.

In one of the areas identified for potential future OSW energy development, Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization President Tom Hafer told Fishermen’s News that his organization has been watching the issue closely and has a number of concerns.

There’s a lot of information not being shared regarding the impact on the environment, economy and culture, he noted in a slideshow presentation his organization created with the REACT (Responsible Energy Adaptation for California’s Transition) Alliance.

In the presentation, Hafer pointed out that there are thousands of square miles identified as suitable sea space warranting further study for potential future OSW plans. All of this could cause navigational conflicts with California vessel traffic.

The electric subsea cables also may be routed through marine protected areas (MPA) and environmentally sensitive habitats. Failures in these cables is a common problem, he added.

Also, large wind farms—those with more than 80 turbines—block wind, causing a reduction in upwellings and stopping nutrient rich water from rising up, Hafer stated in the presentation.

There also would be a loss, he said, of fishing grounds and fishing opportunities from impacts to fisheries due to surveys and trenching, noise pollution, cables and diminished upwellings.

At an OSW-focused meeting with the California Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture on May 17, Mike Conroy, West Coast director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), echoed many of the same concerns. Conroy was part of a panel that shared a presentation titled “California’s fisheries and offshore wind energy: Can wind and fish co-exist or will the plan flounder?”

“In short, we don’t know,” Conroy said. “No one knows, as there are no large-scale floating offshore wind farms currently in existence anywhere.”

A turbine from University of Maine’s patented VolturnUS, a concrete semi-submersible floating wind platform. Photo: University of Maine/NREL 27462.

“We know that there have been, there are and there will be impacts, but the scale of those impacts remains unknown,” he added, particularly on the health and productivity of the California marine ecosystem.

He acknowledged that there will be temporary and long-term jobs created by offshore wind, but said officials need to recognize that there also will be seafood economy jobs that are lost.

Conroy also pointed out the economic value of what harvesters bring in and the revenue generated downstream. He noted that commercial fishermen are mobile and impacts from the lease sites will not be limited to the vessels that have adjacent home ports.

The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust invited Conroy to give a presentation on the topic in April 2023. Conroy said then that he isn’t opposed to wind energy but wants to ensure that it’s implemented responsibly and with care, particularly for those who would be directly affected, like those in the fishing industry.

Executive Director Melissa Mahoney said in an email to Fishermen’s News that the trust is keeping an eye on the issue as plans move forward in neighboring California coastal towns, should a project land closer to Monterey Bay. Of particular concern: if public concerns are being addressed. 

“Who are the winners and losers? Will the public and fisheries stakeholders really have agency with this issue, or will big government and big business do what they choose regardless?” she said. “While climate change and reducing our carbon footprint is important, the loss of food security through the diminished production of our fisheries is a possible unintended consequence if OSW is not implemented responsibly and with support from coastal communities.”

Mahoney noted that the key concerns for commercial fishermen include loss of fishing grounds, navigational hazards, ecosystem impacts and loss of infrastructure space at some ports.

She also pointed out that, to her understanding, building offshore wind turbines is not carbon neutral. She questioned if the use of concrete from sand mining, oils for hydraulics and other mechanisms and the fossil fuels required to install and maintain the equipment are being considered.

Mahoney also wondered what happens with the turbines when they reach the end of their useful life and said that the possible degradation of winds driving upwelling, which forms the basis of productivity in the California current ecosystem, must be taken into account.

“I have so many questions, and so should they, and they should all be answered with solid science before a single turbine gets anywhere near our coast,” she said.

NOAA Fisheries is providing data and information to BOEM on historic fishing operations and coastal communities’ reliance on fishing operations, as well the potential socioeconomic impacts of offshore wind projects on commercial and for-hire fishing industries.

The two agencies partnered up with RODA to hold a first-of-its-kind workshop and, from that forum, develop a peer-reviewed report synthesizing the current state of science on the interactions between fisheries and offshore wind.

The Synthesis of the Science: Fisheries and Offshore Wind project aims to enhance understanding of existing science and data gaps related to offshore wind interactions with fish and fisheries, said Andy Lipsky, who oversees the wind energy team at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center and is a co-author of the report.

“This collaboration was a great success and truly helped us as we developed a joint survey mitigation strategy with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,” Lipsky said. “It also helps us define and begin developing the new kinds of monitoring required to continue our long-term data streams on ocean life as well as needed research on how offshore wind energy changes marine habitats and fisheries.”

In a March 29, 2023, statement from RODA, the “Synthesis of the Science” project was a key first step toward jointly building a regional fisheries and offshore science agenda. 

Fishermen, fishing industry representatives, federal and state agency experts, wind energy developers, academics and scientists all contributed to the report. Ecological knowledge of the fishing industry was incorporated into all of the topics, including ecosystem effects, fisheries socioeconomics, fisheries management and data collection, methods and approaches and regional science planning.

“This report enhances understanding of existing science and data gaps related to offshore wind energy development interactions with fish and fisheries on regional and broader levels,” RODA said in the statement.

RODA, a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies, is working with BOEM and has a number of goals to improve the approach to offshore wind development and address the impact to fisheries and coastal communities.

They include improving environmental review and project decision making, removing barriers to participation and planning processes, ensuring navigational safety, supporting seafood business and community longevity, developing solutions for responsible transmission and enhancing research.

The following is a summary of the status of offshore wind development in California, Oregon and Washington.


The biggest movement in OSW development on the West Coast has been on California’s northern and central coasts following a 2021 agreement between state officials and the Biden administration. The Department of the Interior later identified two key areas to pursue: Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay.

In December 2022, BOEM offered five California outer continental shelf lease areas that totaled about 373,268 acres (583 square miles) with the potential to produce over 4.5 GW of offshore wind energy, power more than 1.5 million homes and support thousands of new jobs. BOEM formally executed these offshore wind leases in June 2023.

As for next steps, lessees have up to one year from lease execution to submit a site assessment plan for BOEM review. Upon approval, companies have up to five years to conduct site assessment and characterization activities on their leases to help inform the development of a construction and operations plan for federal and state permitting and engineering and environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.

A lease from the Energy Management Bureau doesn’t permit the construction of a wind farm, BOEM Pacific Office spokesperson John Romero stated via email. A construction and operations plan (COP) must go through technical and engineering reviews and environmental review under NEPA.

No construction can occur until a COP has received BOEM approval and all relevant federal and state permits.

The five leases in California are with RWE Offshore Wind Holdings, LLC; California North Floating LLC; Equinor Wind US LLC; Golden State Wind LLC (formerly known as Central California Offshore Wind LLC before the lease was issued), and Invenergy California Offshore LLC.

In a July 28 letter to California wind energy lease holders, Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) Chair Marc Gorelnik commented on the companies’ fisheries communications plans. 

“The prospect of industrial-scale energy facility development has significant implications to the ability to continue commercial and recreational fishing activities, as well as to related industries such as shipping, seafood processing, charter fishing operations, tourism and more,” Gorelnik wrote.

“Local and regional economies of fishing-dependent communities as well as important marine habitats and ecosystem services will also be impacted,” the letter continued. “Developing reliable lines of communication between lessees and the fishing community will maximize the likelihood of avoiding and minimizing such impacts.”

In late 2023, BOEM announced the start of the environmental review process for future potential development activities on the five offshore wind lease areas off California’s central and north coasts.

“This regional environmental analysis will help ensure that timely decisions can be made to advance offshore wind while protecting the ocean environment, marine life and other ocean uses. This approach also ensures both a comprehensive review of the California areas and improved efficiencies for future offshore wind project reviews,” BOEM Pacific Regional Director Doug Boren said.

Site-specific studies will be conducted for individual proposed wind energy projects as plans are submitted.

Many of the discussions about future potential OSW development have been prompted by Assembly Bill 525, which has a chapter that identifies suitable sea space to meet the state’s goals. It could mean another 2,400 square miles deeded to offshore wind industry, Conroy, from RODA, noted at the joint committee meeting in May.

Preliminary maps show that OSW would line the coast from Fort Bragg to the Oregon border. This would, Conroy said, “functionally kill the fishing industry north of San Francisco.”

“For a state that prides itself on equity and justice, where’s the justice of putting the burden of electricity generation on the shoulders and livelihoods of our state’s iconic and historic fishing industry?” Conroy stated.

Fishermen and fishing communities would receive the vast majority of the negative impacts from OSW development, Ken Bates, executive director of the California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association, said during a June 1 workshop on AB 525 hosted by the California Energy Commission. The forum aimed to identify additional suitable sea space and assess the impacts and mitigations for offshore wind energy development.

“Fishermen are not opposed to renewable forms of energy, but fishermen are opposed—and deeply concerned about—the planned, permanent loss of 3,000 square miles of irreplaceable fishing grounds off the California coast,” Bates said.

California has the most restrictive and best managed fisheries in the world, which is a good thing, he pointed out.

“Our California ocean is not a boundless blue vista, but instead a highly regulated area fully utilized by fishermen, shipping and the military. This area contains numerous MPAs, ship traffic lanes, marine sanctuaries, hundreds of fishing closures, summary cable lines, dumping grounds and military closures,” Bates stated. “The proposed take of ocean fishing grounds by OSW development will directly reduce the sustainable harvest of California seafood that was previously available to the public and it will shift the seafood market supply to unregulated foreign fisheries.”

“The fishing fleet, with thousands of collective hours of experience dealing with offshore oceanic conditions, thinks that placing these gigantic machines in that environment is a potential mistake,” he added.

Floating OSW should be treated as an experiment, Bates said. Before moving ahead with designating new lease areas, the five current lease areas should be operated as a pilot project so officials can see what works and what doesn’t, and if it’s actually able to produce power over the long-term.


Further north, Oregon is considering its own floating offshore wind facilities. The state has established a goal to plan for development of up to 3 GW of floating offshore wind energy projects within federal waters off the coast by 2030.

In a 2022 report by the state’s energy department titled “Floating Offshore Wind Study: Benefits & Challenges for Oregon,” the authors found that “achieving Oregon’s economy-wide decarbonization and clean electricity policies will require developing a tremendous scale of new renewable generation projects.”

“Federal waters off Oregon’s coast hold the potential to develop dozens of gigawatts of floating offshore wind that could make a meaningful contribution to an all-of-the-above solution to achieving the state’s clean energy goals,” the report continues.

However, actually developing and integrating gigawatt-scales of floating offshore wind into Oregon’s electric grid will be challenging, the report concluded.

Oregon Department of Energy officials offered four recommendations for moving forward: seeking additional resources and technical studies; developing a comprehensive state strategy; drawing broad and robust stakeholder engagement and input, and expanding regional collaboration.

BOEM identified the areas, one just north of the coast of Coos Bay and the other offshore from Brookings, using a process that involved outreach to potentially impacted stakeholders and ocean users, Tribes and the public.

The agency looked for locations that appeared to be the most suitable for floating offshore wind energy development and took into consideration possible impacts to local coastal and marine resources and ocean users, officials noted.

BOEM also collaborated with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to use an ocean planning model that attempts to identify and minimize conflicts.

In early 2023, the PFMC called for officials to rescind the current Oregon call areas designated for floating offshore wind energy development and restart the process.

In an April 6, 2023 letter to Boren and Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, the PFMC’s Gorelnik expressed the council’s concerns.

“To be clear, the council is not opposed to the development of OSW energy, generally. What we seek is a development process that adequately considers multiple ocean uses and sites OSW energy facilities in ways that are compatible with these multiple uses,” Gorelnik wrote. “Unfortunately, and despite the engagement of the council and multiple fishery stakeholders, the areas being considered for OSW energy development off the coast of Oregon may not be compatible with fisheries.”

The group requested that BOEM pause current plans and expand its search by considering all areas greater than 12 miles offshore, including areas deeper than 1,300 meters. Gorelnik also recommended that, after restarting the process, they use spatial planning tools to help minimize OSW development impacts to fisheries and ecosystem resources.

In another letter to Boren and Kotek, sent last November, PFMC Council Chair Brad Pettinger commented on several features, activities, potential mitigations and concerns within or around the draft Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) off the Oregon coast.

“In prior communications with BOEM, the council has expressed concern that the offshore wind (OSW) planning process for Oregon has been too rushed and has failed to adequately evaluate the most suitable locations for OSW development with the least impact to fishing activities, important habitats and the wellbeing of Oregon’s coastal communities,” he said.

“The council, as well as members of Oregon’s U.S. Congressional delegation and the Oregon governor, requested a pause in the process to more fully and transparently evaluate suitable areas for OSW off Oregon,” he continued. “In our opinion, the pause has been insufficient to allow the robust evaluation the council has requested.”

Pettinger emphasized the need for a meaningful engagement process, with input incorporated to find solutions to the identified conflicts prior to finalizing the WEAs.

In the letter, PFMC recommended that BOEM extend the geographic scope of evaluating locations outside the current call areas, update the levelized cost of energy, include a careful analysis of ecosystem impacts, such as wind wake effects on ocean processes, and identify sensitive areas such as larval nursery areas that may be impacted by OSW siting.

The council also remains concerned about the lack of certain fishing data, he added.

However, despite concerns and the request to pause the process, on Feb. 13, BOEM announced the designation of two final WEAs offshore of Oregon, totaling about 195,012 acres.

The Coos Bay WEA is 61,204 acres and 32 miles from shore. The Brookings WEA is 133,808 acres and about 18 miles from shore.

There were no changes to the final WEAs compared to the draft areas released earlier in 2023.

According to BOEM officials, the WEAs “avoid 98% of the areas recommended for exclusion due to their importance as commercial fishing grounds.”

BOEM Director Elizabeth Klein said in a prepared statement that the agency would continue to work with state Tribal governments, federal and state government agencies, ocean users, coastal communities and all interested stakeholders to maintain a robust and transparent offshore wind planning process.

A number of commercial fishing groups were disappointed in the announcement.

“This is a slap in the face to the many stakeholders who have been trying to engage with BOEM for the last few years,” Midwater Trawlers Cooperative Director Heather Mann said.

Actual steel in the water is still years away, as BOEM’s Romero previously noted regarding the lengthy post-lease process. 


Although there haven’t been any OSW energy areas identified yet in Washington state, there is interest.

Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled the Blue Wind Offshore Wind Supply Chain Initiative on Oct. 10. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the public/private “campaign will establish the state as a destination for the manufacture and export of offshore floating turbine components.”

The initiative’s launch also kicked off an effort to explore OSW energy for the state.

A floating facility is at the forefront of the movement, Inslee said at the kickoff. Cutting-edge technology is being used to develop submerged buoyant platforms and Washington can lead the way, he added.

There are scientific questions to be answered and things to work out regarding permitting and siting in order to get the industry going, he said, but Inslee indicated that his administration was working on solutions to those issues and designing a system specific to the state. The state will include the Tribes and others who have a stake in the coastal waters.

Some plans for Washington are already being floated, no pun intended.

Hecate Energy is in the early stages of initiating the process for a project called Cascadia Wind, a conceptual idea for a floating, offshore wind facility near Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. The company’s unsolicited lease request (submitted in 2022) began a multi-year process with BOEM and the state to seek public input and conduct an environmental review.

According to Hecate’s application, officials wrote that the requested lease area would consist of up to 134 floating wind turbine generators, each with a capacity of 15 MW, resulting in an overall capacity of about 2,000 MW.  

Sara Hall has 15 years of experience at several regional and national magazines, online news outlets, and daily and weekly newspapers, where coverage has  included reporting on local harbor activities, marine-based news, and regional and state coastal agencies. Her work has included photography, writing, design and layout.