News Date: 12/30/2016 Printed in The Star-Ledger
Tim Dillingham Guest Columnist
Conflict is looming just beyond the horizon on the high seas off New York and New Jersey - and it doesn't bode well for our appetite for fish at the dinner table.
As reported in The Star-Ledgeron Dec. 9, "Commercial fishing companies, trade groups and seaport communities in four states (recently) asked a court to stop the federal government from auctioning off the rights to develop an offshore wind farm" in the Atlantic Ocean.
Will fighting clean-energy wind mills become a quixotic effort from the commercial fishing industry? This shouldn't even be a question if there was proper planning.
Competing interests for use of increasingly crowded ocean space can be expected to come into conflict more frequently. Demands for each continue to increase in a nation that has turned to seafood as a larger part of its diet, but which also seeks solutions to the pending climate crisis in alternative energy generation.
The groups filing the action assert that the siting of a wind farm in this area will negatively impact their use of the area for fishing, and that the federal agency in charge failed to consider that impact adequately. Additionally, they argued the development will impact important fish habitats, fundamental to the health of the marine species the fishermen depend on.
The desire by anglers to keep this ocean space open and free of industrial-energy development faces off against growing desires to install renewable-energy facilities in ocean waters, partially as a technique to mitigate the climate impacts of fossil-fuel burning.
Though the fishermen agreed to back off their demand to prevent the lease sale, the underlying conflict and litigation have just been kicked down the road. The lawsuit is still pending.
The federal arm overseeing ocean space and uses, the National Ocean Council, approved a draft action plan to help settle conflicts like these. The core of the plan recommends the use of newly generated scientific evaluations to coordinate governmental decisions to protect ecologically rich areas, advances new sustainable uses of ocean space - such as offshore wind - and minimizes conflicts between "stakeholders" like commercial fishermen and energy developers. The plan is supported by both New York and New Jersey state governments and the broad range of federal agencies that have responsibility for implementing it.
The conflict in the New York waters is something of a case of the cart getting out ahead of the horse. Despite the considerable investment of time and energyin advancing ocean planning for the specific purposes of protecting the resources, marine habitats and both new and traditional uses of ocean spaces, other efforts - such as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's leasing of offshore wind sites - have gotten out ahead of the planning.
So the very conflicts ocean planning is intended to reduce are coming into stark relief as real-life examples of why the effort is timely and necessary.
To be effective, planning needs to precede regulatory and management decisions.
Two recent relevant examples bear this out: Off Cape Cod, the Cape Wind Project attempted to proceed without the benefit of ocean planning, robust alternatives analyses and early stakeholder input. The project ended in disaster, tied up in litigation and conflict for almost 11 years and never built.
The Block Island Wind Project, in contrast, was preceded by a rigorous, scientifically guided evaluation of siting that engaged fishermen, tribal nations, nearby landowners and local governments. It is now in the water, preparing to deliver renewable energy power to Rhode Island.
The mid-Atlantic, and indeed the nation, has a strong interest in tackling the competing demands for ocean space head on through the ocean-planning process. This would ground planning and decision-making in science, involve the communities and businesses affected, and ensure that the protection of the natural resources and ecological health of the oceans is paramount.
The alternative is many more lawsuits by fishermen, offshore wind developers, environmentalists and shore-side communities. And no one wins in that game.
is a project website for the American Littoral Society.
The American Littoral Society promotes the study and conservation of marine life and habitat, protects the coast from harm, and empowers others to do the same.
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