Rhode Island fishermen are sounding the alarm about offshore wind farms. Last week, the nine-member Fisherman’s Advisory Board to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) resigned in protest of the council’s offshore wind approval process.
Members of the now-defunct board claim the CRMC has abandoned the state’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan and sidelined the fishing industry in its race to meet renewable energy procurement goals with rapid and massive industrial-scale offshore wind development.
Lanney Dellinger, a crab and lobster fisherman out of Newport and the chairman of the Fisherman’s Advisory Board, provided an overview of the motivation behind the mass resignation to Newport This Week on Sept. 2, detailing a multitude of complaints from recreational and commercial fishing interests.
The complaints fell into two main categories: the board’s conclusion that the fishing communities and industries they represent have been sidelined and ignored despite their specified role in the state’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan to the point that there is no longer any point in participating in the process; and fears of what some fishermen are describing as nearly apocalyptic outcomes for New England’s fisheries if the Vineyard Wind, South Fork Wind, Sunrise Wind and future offshore leases are constructed on Coxes Ledge (an offshore fishing ground about 20 miles south of Pt. Judith) and other special habitat areas off the Rhode Island coastline.
The resignation letter asserts that “Rhode Island CRMC has made deference to offshore wind developers its top priority, regardless of the requirements of the [Ocean Special Area Management Plan], the cost to the environment, or the impact to Rhode Island’s fishing industry.”
Meghan Lapp, the fisheries liaison for North Kingstown-based seafood distributor Seafreeze, was among those who resigned from the board, and she echoed that core assertion in comments to NTW, saying, “What people are calling a process is not a process; it’s a dog and pony show. . . When the [Ocean Special Area Management Plan] was passed, it was hailed nationally as the blueprint for how offshore wind should be done. It was shopped around [Washington] by multiple Rhode Island officials, touted by the media, touted everywhere . . . and the two things [it] was designed for were the protection of the fishing industry and protection of the environment.”
However, the board now feels the Ocean Special Area Management Plan has been compromised. The board’s resignation letter claimed that throughout the approval process for multiple offshore wind leases, its “expertise [is] rejected and ridiculed by the council as ‘anecdotal,’ while the developer is free to provide misinformation with impunity, [that CRMC] staff spends its time attempting to downplay impacts and placate developers rather than hold developers to the standards of the [Ocean Special Area Management Plan], and we are now at the point that CRMC is asking the [board] to review projects without legal support.
“The process has become a mockery of what the [Ocean Special Area Management Plan] was designed to accomplish.”
Asked to describe the significance of Coxes Ledge to Rhode Island’s fishing industry, Dellinger said, “Coxes Ledge is everything; it’s Rhode Island’s Georgia Banks, it’s the Grand Canyon. It’s essential fish habitat and [offshore wind developers] are destroying it. NOAA has stated the farms could harm codfish.”
Dellinger said no matter how much information his board brings to the CRMC about potential harm to marine life and habitats, the council has allowed offshore wind developers to dictate terms on every aspect of the approval process, from the location of turbines and the amount of compensation awarded to fishermen impacted by disturbances to loss of access to key fisheries and which fishermen actually get that money.
Striking a defiant tone, he set aside the inequity of the proposed mitigation offered by wind developers, saying, “Nobody I know wants this money anyway. [Orsted] can take their money and pack it back to Denmark. We don’t want your money; we want you to stop destroying our industry.”
The CRMC put out an official response to the board’s resignation, indicating it would continue to move forward with offshore wind development proposals.
“While unfortunate, these resignations do not affect the CRMC’s review scope, obligations and timelines,” it said. “The CRMC remains hopeful that the Rhode Island fishing community will continue to participate in the public process for reviewing offshore wind energy projects, as well as any other projects affecting the fishery resources of the state.”