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Lobstermen Challenge BOEM Leasing Process

First published in Landings, September 2023

The Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) held outreach meetings in Portland, Ellsworth, and Rockport, as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in late July. The purpose of these meetings was to seek on-the-water knowledge from the Gulf of Maine fishing community to improve the spatial models that will be used to identify draft Wind Energy Areas to site offshore wind. BOEM plans to announce the specific Areas in October or November.

Photo courtesy of Avangrid Renewables.

BOEM scheduled these meetings in response to feedback it received during its May Gulf of Maine Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting in Bangor, which offered an in-depth dive into the data used to identify Wind Energy Areas. BOEM’s offshore wind leases will be sited within a Wind Energy Area. BOEM also sought knowledge directly from those who know the Gulf of Maine best: the men and women who live and work on the water.

Skeptical members of the fishing community attended the July outreach meetings and listened as BOEM officials walked them through the wind energy leasing process. BOEM also presented a series of spatial modeling maps depicting varying levels of suitability for offshore wind energy development throughout the Gulf of Maine. In each of the Maine meetings, lobstermen said loudly and clearly: no leases in LMA 1.

BOEM staff readily admitted that finding suitable areas for development is a challenging task. “One thing that we knew coming into this, and it’s been reiterated many times by folks coming into these meetings, is that there is no place in the Gulf of Maine that’s free of conflict. People fish everywhere,” Zachary Jylkka, BOEM project coordinator, said. Nevertheless, BOEM is federally mandated to proceed with the wind energy leasing process using the best available data at its disposal.

Numerous fishermen expressed frustration that BOEM is proceeding in its process to issue offshore wind leases in the Gulf of Maine in late 2024 without the benefits of accurate data on lobster fishing activities or an understanding of the environmental impact of the floating turbines.

Gulf of Maine offshore wind lease Call Area.

Currently, best available data do not include adequate fishing records from Maine lobstermen who began 100% reporting on all trips this year. Maine’s federal lobster boats will be subject to mandatory vessel tracking at the end of this year. Those data will not be available until 2024 and 2025 respectively. BOEM’s commercial leasing process is occurring at the same time as the agency considers the state of Maine’s application for a Research Array that would study the ecological and environmental effects of offshore wind energy and its viability within the Gulf. BOEM is moving forward with its aggressive commercial leasing process without the benefit of critical data that would be collected from the Research Array. A primary purpose of the Research Array is to inform that process.

MLA Board Member Bob Baines questioned how BOEM could come up with an accurate model without critical data from the lobster industry. “You talk about how this is driven by data. Well, I’ll reiterate what’s been said. 100% mandatory reporting this year. 100% tracking next year. You’ve got the cart before the horse, because once this data comes out… this is already going to be a done deal,” he said. “We have a very well-managed, sustainable fishery. And if you put wind turbines out in LMA1 by the hundreds or even thousands…it’s going to ruin our fishery. And it would be a shame because so many communities, so many families, depend on this fishery.”

“The administration has said that it is our goal to have a lease sale by the end of 2024, but there’s still a lot of value in the comments that say you’d like to see further delays in commercial leasing so that lessons can be learned from the research lease,” Jylkka said.

BOEM presented the draft results of a spatial modeling analysis, which produced heat maps to depict areas of low, medium, and high areas of suitability, and asked the fishing community for feedback. “You don’t have a lot of information from the lobstermen. Your green areas and your blue areas — that’s where I live. You don’t want to put those in my backyard. You want to put them in my living room. It’s pretty upsetting,” said Aldie Leeman at the Portland meeting.

Others pointed out the migratory nature of lobster, questioning the viability of any such static modeling. An area identified today as an area of low activity might be an area of high activity years down the line. Environmental changes, such as warmer or colder water in a given season, and management changes that lead to greater or lesser fishing effort in specific areas, will influence lobster distribution. Lobstermen also questioned the effect of the turbines themselves on lobster behavior.

“The map is going to alter inevitably when you start destroying the environment,” said Swans Island lobsterman and MLA board member Jason Joyce at the Ellsworth meeting. “Environmentally, you’re disrupting the habitat. We know disruptions are going to happen.”

The leases’ duration was another point of concern. The average length of a commercial lease is 33 years, according to BOEM, starting from the point of sale and including one to three years for construction, 20-plus years of operation, and additional time for the decommissioning process, which requires companies to remove all physical structures and cabling and restore the benthic habitat to its original condition. BOEM emphasized that offshore wind development is coming to the Gulf of Maine. Throughout all the July meetings, BOEM reiterated its desire and commitment to work with the fishing community to minimize the impacts to commercial fishing operations and identify priorities for research and monitoring.

BOEM staff also made clear that the agency understands the importance of LMA 1 to the region and is giving serious consideration to excluding this area from the lease sales. It remains essential for fishermen to continue engaging with BOEM as this process moves forward. Additional information on BOEM’s lease development process in the Gulf of Maine is available here.

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