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US Fishermen Fear the Growth of Wind Power Industry

Fishing boats sit in New Bedford Harbor, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Fishermen in the nation's most profitable port share increasing concern over the growing offshore wind industry.
Fishing boats sit in New Bedford Harbor, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Fishermen in the nation's most profitable port share increasing concern over the growing offshore wind industry.
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Fishermen on the northeastern coast of the United States are voicing concerns about the development of offshore wind power.

Some of the fishermen are based in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The town was once a major center for whale-hunting ships. The city was made famous in Herman Melville’s book about whaling, “Moby Dick.” New Bedford also has been one of the nation’s most profitable fishing ports for 17 years.

But fishermen there now fear the possibility of having to pilot their boats through many wind turbines to reach their fishing grounds.

The state of Massachusetts wants to build hundreds of the large wind turbines off the coast near New Bedford. The electricity produced would be enough to power more than 1 million homes.

Eric Hansen harvests scallops from his boat in New Bedford. His family has been in this business for generations. The 56-year old spoke to the Associated Press about his concerns. “You ever see a radar picture of a wind farm?” he asked. Hansen added, “Transit through it will be next to impossible, especially in heavy wind and fog.”

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the government agency responsible for dealing with energy issues in federally-owned waters. An organization representing East Coast scallop fishermen has taken legal action against the agency. They are trying to stop a proposal for a wind farm of nearly 200 wind turbines off the coast of New York’s Long Island.

Commercial fishermen in Maryland’s Ocean City and North Carolina’s Outer Banks have also raised concerns about being unable to reach fishing grounds.

FILE - An off-shore wind farm stands in the water near the Danish island of Samso, May 19, 2008.
FILE - An off-shore wind farm stands in the water near the Danish island of Samso, May 19, 2008.

But supporters of the offshore wind power industry say they have learned from Europe’s experience with the technology. They also point to the opening of America’s only offshore wind farm near Rhode Island. They say it provides evidence that wind farms will not hurt U.S. fishermen.

Deepwater Wind is a company based in Rhode Island that opened the five-turbine wind farm near the state’s Block Island.

The company is proposing larger wind farms in other places along the East Coast.

Matthew Morrissey is a vice president of Deepwater. He told the Associated Press, “We want to do this the right way, and I believe we have a path to do that.”

However, fishermen are concerned that offshore wind farms will only lead to more restrictions.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management representative Stephen Boutwell said the agency has taken steps to deal with the concerns of the fishermen. These include banning wind farm development in some areas off Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York that are valuable to the fishing industry.

The agency also has carried out studies on issues fishermen have raised. This includes questions about the effects of wind farm construction and electromagnetic fields on fish behavior.

Deepwater Wind said early findings from studies of its Block Island wind farm show little harm to the environment. The company suggests that fish and lobster populations are “just as strong” as they were before the wind farm.

The company says it has paid several fishermen who were temporarily unable to reach their fishing grounds during construction.

There have not been reports of fishing boats striking the turbines. But several boats have reported their fishing equipment getting damaged by undersea structures connected to the turbines.

Richard Fuka is the president of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance. He said problems with wind turbines have cost fishermen tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and lost fishing time.

Also, U.S. fishermen are not pleased with the comparison to European fishermen. In Europe, 10 different countries have placed restrictions on fishing around the more than 3,500 turbines off their shores.

U.S. officials and developers however say similar bans are not being considered, except during construction.

Studies have been done on the North Sea of Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. They suggest the turbines actually support the growth of sea life.

Yet, Merlin Jackson of the Thanet Fishermen’s Association said in Britain transit through wind farms remains difficult in bad weather.

He said there have been at least two cases of fishing boats hitting turbines. Fishermen largely depend on the lights on turbines as guides, but they are not always taken care of well.

Jackson added that America’s slower, more complex approval process for turbine construction has “forced more questions to be asked.”

East Coast fishermen seem more united than those in Europe when wind farms are being developed.

“If fishermen can be organized and be allowed to have input into the earliest parts of the planning process, then there should be a way forward,” Jackson said.

I’m Pete Musto. And I’m Lucija Milonig.

Philip Marcelo reported this for the Associated Pres. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

How can the fishing and wind power industries work together? What will the future be like for both? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.



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Words in This Story

whalen. an often very large animal that lives in the ocean and that is a mammal rather than a fish

turbine(s) – n. a tall structure that has large blades attached to an engine and that is used to produce electricity

scallop(s) – n. a type of shellfish that has a flat, round shell with two parts and that is often eaten as food

transitn. the act of moving people or things from one place to another

commercialadj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

electromagneticadj. describing a magnetic field that is produced by a current of electricity

lobstern. an ocean animal that has a long body, a hard shell, and a pair of large claws and that is caught for food

allow(ed) – v. to permit someone to have or do something

inputn. advice or opinions that help someone make a decision