With the onrush of new offshore wind (OSW) projects planned all over the U.S. West Coast (most recently with new designated areas offshore in Oregon), and both state and national policies pushing these projects hard, the real fear in the commercial fishing industry is that the protection needs of many valuable ocean fisheries will simply be ignored.
OSW projects are, unfortunately, going to be sited where the ocean winds are strongest and most reliable. These are often the areas of greatest fish abundance, because they are the areas with strongest cold-water upwellings.
Strong ocean winds create and power these same upwellings, which provide vital nutrients to support multiple fish species in those key fisheries areas.
Threats to Fisheries
We have written before about the potential harms that offshore wind developments might impose on our fisheries (see Fishermen’s News Sept. 2023, PCFFA article Managing Offshore Wind Threats to West Coast Fisheries).
But make no mistake: we as an industry—and western U.S. coastal communities especially— already are feeling the first nasty impacts of climate change and are all for avoiding far worse future impacts by helping society to cut down on the burning of fossil fuels as fast as feasible.
PCFFA, in fact, sued the California fossil-fuel industry in 2018 for the damages that fossil-fuel powered climate change has caused to at least the California Dungeness crab fishery, and which they knew about, but lied about for decades. The case is still working its way through the courts (see PCFFA vs. Chevron, et al., https://tinyurl.com/mryn3375; see also a background information sheet on this case at: https://tinyurl.com/bdh5phcs.
Climate change impacts already hitting us include:
- Major shutdowns of fisheries, such as Dungeness crab, due to “ocean heat waves” that produce more domoic acid-generating toxic algae blooms and disrupt usual fish (and whale) migration patterns.
- This year’s complete shutdown of California’s (and much of Oregon’s) ocean salmon seasons, caused by the mismanagement of water shortfalls in California, in turn triggered by record droughts that were clearly exacerbated by climate change.
- Major changes in ocean ecosystems caused by accelerating ocean acidification—again, directly linked to excessive carbon dioxide (CO2)coming from the burning of fossil fuels.
- As ice caps melt and ocean temperatures increase, gradually rising average sea levels that are already straining some coastal port infrastructures, eroding beaches and threatening coastal housing in several areas.
- Heating oceans that power increasingly hostile storm conditions, including increasing severity and frequency of life-threatening tropical storms and hurricanes.
- Thus, the fishing industry is not inherently opposed to OSW development as a key part of the global effort to decarbonize our society—so long as it is done carefully and negative impacts on our fisheries are avoided, or at least minimized.
But how to put protections for our industry and our access to viable fisheries into binding policy directives, in the face of the almost frantic rush to put OSW facilities nearly everywhere, is a huge problem that we have to push harder to resolve—before these OSW facilities are in place.
But what would such a policy look like? Here are some of our thoughts on this issue:
First Rule: Do No Harm
The first rule in any such OSW fisheries protection policy, whether national or state-based, should be to avoid adverse impacts on the fisheries in the first place—in other words, try first to do no harm.
This means that OSW siting policies have to take into account—in advance—what likely harms will or could occur to local fisheries and fragile ocean ecosystems because of siting, density of wind turbines, impacts of the inevitable long networks of anchor cables and power lines and out-and-out closures of key fisheries areas and vessel transit corridors.
If, for instance, it’s possible to avoid placing OSW turbines in the middle of key fisheries areas, why not shift them to other areas where there will be much less or no impact?
This may mean placing these wind farms further out from shore, perhaps, which means more costs to the OSW company—but this could well be far more economical to society as a whole than deliberately displacing a valuable fishery and food source and then having to compensate for those losses later.
It may be possible to redesign the placement of wind farms in such a way that their cumulative impacts are minimized. This could mean fewer turbines in key fisheries areas and more placed in areas where fisheries impacts would be minimized or where their existence as navigation hazards are minimized.
It also may be possible to design and build more vertical platform anchor cables, and to bury power cables under the ocean floor in ways that would be less likely to interact with surface-water fishing gear that would require closures.
There’s still a lot of room for creativity in designing wind turbine systems in ways that avoid fisheries impacts.
There’s also a clear public interest component to OSW development that the companies will be bound by. These platforms will themselves be, or will service, highly regulated public utilities—and thus be bound by Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requirements to protect broad public interests, not just their own corporate bottom line.
In some states, such as California, there are coastal development agencies which will have jurisdiction over these projects as well, agencies which must consider broader public interests, including fisheries protections.
Second Rule: If Harms Occur, Mitigate and Compensate
There’s probably no way to completely avoid some OSW development adverse impacts on local fisheries, even with best efforts to avoid or minimize those impacts. Having to travel additional distances, for instance, to avoid OSW platforms means more fuel expenses.
In some cases, fishing boats may be completely excluded from OSW platform areas, which means they will have to find new areas to fish or re-gear for an entirely different fishery. This may shift fishing efforts to places already bearing maximum harvest rates.
“Mitigation” for fisheries impacts may mean lots of things besides flat-out compensation for lost gear or lost fisheries access.
Some key elements of a fisheries impacts mitigation program might include a grants program established to help pay for a displaced boat owner’s costs of transitioning from one gear type (no longer being used because the OSW project has closed that local fishery) to another more useful gear type necessary to pursue another fishery in a different location.
A fund that could be used to improve local fishing industry infrastructure generally, for example, upgrading a local failing ice plant or fuel dock, also could go a long way toward mitigating some of the negative economic impacts on local ports.
Such a program should include compensation:
- Not just for the immediate impacts, but for impacts that will last for the lifetime of the project, which might be decades.
- Not just for a handful of current boat owners, but for the broader group of all users of local fisheries.
- To the fishing industry as a whole, when impacted by fisheries closures or displacements created by OSW projects—including on-shore processors whose sources of harvested seafood could be greatly reduced.
- For damages that include loss of capital value of the fishing business and permit, to the degree its capital investment (mostly boats and gear) can no longer be used for commercial fishing. If the fishing permit and boat become valueless, this is a real-time economic loss that’s often not taken into account.
- Impact fees payable to the local coastal port community itself, to the degree that lost harvest opportunities would adversely affect the entire local port economy, including long-term (possibly permanent) loss of local access to local fisheries by future generations.
State-by-State vs. National Framework
There are also the beginnings of a national policy effort to create OSW-paid fisheries impacts mitigation and compensation programs, but very little effort on unified national standards for these programs has been made to date in a deeply divided Congress.
In the absence of national standards, the U.S. East Coast, with multiple small coastal states sharing overlapping fisheries, instead has moved toward a regional approach toward providing compensation to fish harvesters for OSW impacts.
Eleven states—Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina—have been steadily advancing a joint state-based initiative to establish a regional fund to provide fisheries financial compensation for economic losses caused by offshore wind development on the Atlantic seaboard.
California’s New Approach: SB 286
The California commercial fishing industry has been grappling with this problem for a while now. The California legislature has, at the fishing industry’s request, recently passed Senate Bill 286 to set up an organized framework and stakeholder “working group” under the auspices of the California Coastal Commission (which has some legal authority over offshore wind projects) to establish first-time-ever statewide policies and standards for when, where and how to compensate commercial fish harvesters for any damages they might have to endure from OSW development in the future.
This bill is now a leading model for how West Coast states might tackle this problem.
Quoting from the Legislative Counsel’s Digest of SB 286 itself, as passed:
“The bill would require the California Coastal Commission, in coordination with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, to convene the [California Offshore Wind Energy Fisheries] working group on or before January 1, 2025, for the purpose of developing a statewide strategy for ensuring that offshore wind energy projects avoid and minimize impacts to ocean fisheries to the maximum extent possible, avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to fishing and fisheries in a manner that prioritizes fishery productivity, viability, and long-term resilience, and fairly and reasonably compensate persons engaged in the commercial and recreational fishing industries and tribal fisheries for economic impacts to ocean fisheries resulting from offshore wind energy projects. The bill would require the statewide strategy to include best practices for addressing impacts to the commercial and recreational fishing industries, tribal fisheries, and environmental resources associated with offshore wind energy projects, as specified, and to be completed on or before January 1, 2026. The bill would require the California Coastal Commission to adopt the statewide strategy on or before May 1, 2026, and to review the statewide strategy as needed to determine if changes are necessary. The bill would require an applicant seeking approval or concurrence from a state agency for an offshore wind energy project to comply with the terms, recommendations, and best practices established in the statewide strategy.
“The bill would require the working group to develop a framework for reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts associated with offshore wind energy projects, including a payment structure to reasonably compensate commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries and impacted commercial fish processors. The bill would require the payment structure to include, among other things, investments in fleet improvements to promote resiliency, reasonable compensation for the commercial fishing industry for personal property losses caused by offshore wind energy projects, and reasonable compensation for lost commercial and tribal revenue due to reduced fishing grounds, as specified. The bill would require the State Lands Commission or a local trustee of granted public trust lands to consider including within a lease for an offshore wind energy project reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to fishing and tribal interests. The bill would create the Offshore Wind Energy Resiliency Fund and would require the State Lands Commission to deposit revenue generated from an offshore wind energy project lease in the fund. The bill would make moneys in the fund available, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for reasonable compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts associated with offshore wind energy projects.”
The California Coastal Commission, which has permitting authority (under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”), 16 U.S.C. Secs. 1451-1664) over the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s California offshore energy projects, already has required such a “working group” in its “Consistency Determinations.” They bind future BOEM-authorized offshore wind projects, with tasks described as follows:
California Coastal Commission Consistency Determination Sec. 7(c): BOEM will work with the Commission and other state and federal agencies to develop and facilitate a working group consisting of fishing organizations and representatives from different regions/ports of the state, representing different fisheries and gear types, and in both the commercial and recreational sectors, lessees and state and federal agency staff. The working group will develop a statewide strategy for avoidance, minimization and mitigation of impacts to fishing and fisheries that prioritizes fisheries productivity, viability, and long-term resilience. The strategy should include protocols for communication, best practices for surveys and data collection, a methodology for comprehensive socioeconomic analysis of direct and indirect impacts to fishing, a framework for compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts, and a Fishing Agreement template that memorializes the elements of the strategy. The strategy should include specific consideration for those fisheries that are disproportionately and/or directly affected by offshore wind development. (Consistency Determinations Nos. CD-0001-22 (01-24-22) and CD-0004-22 (04-15-22)
The California Coastal Commission is actually far ahead of the SB 286 deadlines. By the time you’re reading this article, the commission will likely have appointed that “working group” and will soon begin the nitty-gritty work of hammering out the “statewide standards” for reasonable mitigations and compensation of California fishing industry folks and others whose livelihoods may be affected by future California offshore wind energy projects.
If these projects are carefully planned with fishing protections paramount, as SB 286 requires, we hope to live with OSW development while maintaining our vitally important, and extremely valuable, ocean fisheries.
RODA Publication: Impact Fees for Commercial Fishing from Offshore Wind Development: Considerations for a National Framework (Nov. 2021). https://rodafisheries.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/RODA-Impact-Fees-Report_Dec21.pdf
SB 286 (enrolled version September 18, 2023), available by bill number at: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billSearchClient.xhtml
Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) page on Offshore Wind at: https://www.pcouncil.org/managed_fishery/offshore-wind
Glen Spain, J.D., is the acting executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and of its sister organization, the Institute for Fisheries Resources. He’s also the PFMC-appointed commercial fisheries representative to the PFMC’s Habitat Committee. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and by phone at the PCFFA/IFR Northwest Regional Office, (541) 689-2000. PCFFA’s website is www.pcffa.org. IFR’s website is www.ifrfish.org.