Vineyard Wind, the company that won the bid to locate an 800-megawatt wind farm off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard, announced Monday that it has hired a fisheries liaison.
Crista Bank, who previously worked as a fisheries biologist with the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at UMass Dartmouth, will lead Vineyard Wind’s work with the region’s fishing industry.
“We’re pleased to have Crista lead our efforts to address the important questions the fishing industry has raised about the impacts of offshore wind development on the marine environment and on sea life,” Erich Stephens, chief development officer with Vineyard Wind, is quoted as saying in a press release. “Crista will play a key role in ensuring that the first large-scale offshore wind project in the U.S. helps establish a robust body of knowledge that will benefit the American offshore wind industry and the fishing community for decades to come.”
The move comes as Vineyard Wind has gotten significant pushback from fishermen in Rhode Island concerned about impacts to the squid fishing they do in those federal waters.
Chris Brown, who has fished out of Point Judith for 42 years and is president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, is concerned that the process is being run by the U.S. Bureau of Environmental Management instead of what’s best for the ocean.
“We call them the Bureau of Environmental Malfeasance. With them it’s drill baby, drill, dig baby, dig or spin baby, spin,” Brown told The Times. “They are all-powerful. It’s frightening. We have a system of checks and balances. Who the hell is their check? Who is their balance?”
The Rhode Island fishermen are worried about the squid fishery and lobster, and say Vineyard Wind hasn’t been able to produce scientific evidence that the construction won’t jeopardize the fisheries.
“The other day we didn’t get a vibe they were too interested in listening,” Brown said. “They were dedicated to not changing. They insisted that they did not understand. We’re not impressed.”
Martha’s Vineyard fishermen have also raised concern, specifically about the lobster and monkfish populations in that area.
“There are a lot of concerns from our fishermen,” Shelley Edmundson, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Preservation Trust, told The Times. “Those are productive fishing grounds, and not a lot is known about what the impacts will be, and the severity of them.”
The concerns of Vineyard fishermen are what the impact will be on the ocean floor. “They’re concerned with what’s going to happen to the lobster ecosystem when towers are installed,” she said.
Bank knows she’s diving into a bit of a hornet’s nest. “I knew I was getting into something pretty contentious,” she told The Times.
In her work at UMass Dartmouth, Bank has climbed aboard some of the same fishing vessels whose captains are raising alarms about what the project will do to fishing.
“They genuinely want to make it work and have it work together,” Bank said of Vineyard Wind. “We’re the first ones with a project of this scale. We want to do it right. We want to be a model. We have to work with the fishermen. They’re the ones who know these grounds.”
She understands the strains on fishing, from regulations to quotas, to the impacts of climate change and pollution. She’s hopeful her understanding will help her garner trust and be a credible voice.
“It’s an important industry, and oftentimes gets the short end of the stick — bearing the brunt of ecological changes that aren’t the result of fishing,” Bank said. “It’s a good role for me, even though I know it won’t be an easy one.”
Edmundson said she’s met Bank, but hasn’t talked to her at length. It is a positive that Vineyard Wind is hiring someone with a science background to collaborate with fishermen, she said. “Fishermen are still leery of someone working for the wind farm company,” Edmundson said.
“We’ll see how it all evolves. It’s a new problem to troubleshoot through, and I think there’s going to be bumps,” Edmundson said. “There’s unforeseen things that will happen.”
Vineyard Wind is looking to build an 800-megawatt wind farm 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. First the company must negotiate long-term contracts with Massachusetts electric distribution companies. The company hopes to begin site construction in 2019, and start generating electricity by 2021.
The company has been asked to file a supplemental environmental impact report, as well, after Matthew Beaton, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, found the draft report “inadequate,” according to the document requiring the supplemental report.
“This determination is based on the commonwealth’s interest in and obligation to provide a rigorous, robust, and transparent environmental review process for the largest single procurement of offshore wind by any state in the nation,” Beaton wrote.