Island lobstermen oppose NOAA decision

Vineyard Wind was awarded an incidental harassment authorization, which fishermen call a ‘double standard’.

Vineyard lobstermen are opposed to the take count NOAA granted Vineyard Wind. — MV Times

Island lobstermen are irked that a federal agency is giving Vineyard Wind a pass on how many marine mammals are affected by its construction while fishermen are held to a different standard.

According to the incidental harassment authorization issued by NOAA, there are levels of harassment Vineyard Wind is allowed per species. The Marine Mammals Protection Act lists two definitions for harassment, which are labeled as Level A and Level B. Level A harassment is “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild,” while Level B includes “acts that have the potential to disturb (but not injure) a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.” 

The incidental harassment authorization shows that Vineyard Wind was given take counts for a variety of marine mammals under both levels. Under Level A, animals with more vulnerable populations are allowed low numbers, such as the five fin whales. The more common the animal, the higher the allowance is, shown with the 35 common dolphins. This is the same for Level B, except at much higher numbers: 33 fin whales and 4,646 common dolphins. 

The incidental harassment authorization is valid from May 1, 2023, to April 30, 2024. 

Lobstermen Wayne Iacono and Wes Brighton expressed frustration at the “double standard” that NOAA seems to be playing by giving Vineyard Wind an incidental take count. The Marine Mammals Protection Act defines take as “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.” Vineyard Wind is allowed some incidental take, which is “unintentional, but not unexpected, taking,” according to NOAA. 

One species, in particular, the lobstermen are worried about is the endangered North Atlantic right whale. 

Charles (“Stormy”) Mayo, the director of the Center for Coastal Studies’ right whale ecology program, told The Times these animals are “on the brink of extinction,” with an estimated population of around 340. Mayo said the population is on a downward trend, and the primary causes of death are entanglement from fishing gear and collision with ships, as well as the impact of climate change. Additionally, the whales eat tiny organisms, like plankton, in large quantities. This makes them “significant circulators of nutrients” in the ocean, although their numeric impact has shrunk over the years. Mayo said preserving the right whales is important for biodiversity. 

“We are faced with a double standard, and what’s at stake is the expenditure of a fragile [right whale] population,” Brighton said, calling these developments disheartening. “Fishermen are sacrificing at great cost to innovate fishing gear so that we can ensure a sustainable future for whales and fishing, all while the regulations are all but lifting as we are about to build [a huge wind farm] in the same sensitive area of ocean.” 

The right whale does not fall under the allowance for Level A harassment, but other endangered species, like the sei whale, have a small allowance under Level A. To the lobstermen, this seemed like a “license to kill” granted by NOAA. 

“It’s kind of ironic. They’re shutting us down, but allowing them to kill whales,” Iacono said. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits take counts for commercial lobstermen unless they are in an area known for frequent interactions with marine mammals. “I don’t know, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”

Iacono said the project hurt both wildlife and fishermen’s income. “They’re shutting us down from February until May 1,” he said. “It is a loss of income for us, yet they are allowing Vineyard Wind, Mayflower, and whoever else is out there to continue their operations.” 

The area Vineyard Wind is slated to start construction is in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, which Iacono said Islanders and fishermen from Massachusetts towns farther away, such as Westport and New Bedford, come to procure various kinds of fish and shellfish. Iacono said the closure of this fishing spot is “affecting everybody.”

While Iacono believes striving for green energy is a worthy endeavor, he thinks people’s perception of the wind farm has been “greenwashed.”

“Believe me, I’m not a [Donald] Trump supporter in any way. I’m all for green energy and preserving our environment, but this is very bad for our environment. Especially for our oceans,” Iacono said, listing injuries to migratory birds and an increased carbon footprint as examples. 

Brighton said people who push green energy, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, do not have a realistic vision for fishermen and lobstermen with their goals, such as replacing current lobster pots with gear without buoy lines. Brighton said these lineless traps can cost $70,000 to $80,000 each, a significant hit to a commercial fisherman or lobsterman’s budget.

NOAA public affairs specialist Katie Wagner told The Times this is the first time a wind farm developer was awarded an incidental harassment authorization. However, take counts have been awarded before. Commercial fishermen and lobstermen cannot receive these take counts through incidental harassment authorizations. Commercial fishermen obtain permits if they operate in category I or II (frequent and occasional marine mammal injuries and deaths, respectively) fisheries. 

Wagner said Vineyard Wind’s incidental harassment authorization does not allow for the “serious injury or mortality” of marine mammals. 

But how was the high amount of Level B harassment numbers, some in the thousands, justified?

“There are several monitoring and reporting requirements in the Vineyard Wind 1 IHA (incidental harassment authorization),” Wagner said. Aside from reports done by workers on the site, there will also be “observers” that will make routine reports to NOAA, using visual and acoustic data and monitoring, to keep marine mammals from harm. 

When asked about the perceived double standard, Wagner said NOAA Fisheries “assessed the impacts of project construction on marine mammals and their habitat.” She also said NOAA Fisheries is working with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to make a final environmental statement, which “analyzes the direct, indirect, and cumulative impact on the human environment (including the impacts on fishing) from Vineyard Wind’s project.” 

Vineyard Wind director of communications Andrew Doba pointed to the record of decision for Vineyard 1. The document showed 98 measures Vineyard Wind will take to mitigate harm to marine mammals, such as delaying pile-driving activities and reporting animals sighted in certain zones. The incidental harassment authorization also shows measures implemented to protect marine mammals, such as using mufflers for their pile-driving operations and monitoring for animals. 

“The project has been through years of rigorous review from dozens of entities, including local, regional, state, and federal governments, and in consultation with scientists, conservation groups, and other stakeholders,” Doba wrote in an email. “It was only given approval after meeting very high standards that ensure any impact to the environment will be avoided, minimized, or mitigated.”

Mayo said the plans sound good, but the environmentalists, government entities, and Vineyard Wind will need to be “on their toes” to continue monitoring protection of marine mammals. There are uncertainties, but Mayo thinks that Vineyard Wind’s project can potentially be a model for doing marine construction while protecting wildlife.


  1. People seem to forget that the Right Whales back 100 years ago were non exsistent. They were thought to be hunted to the last whale. Some how they started to reappear and their numbers grew. Lobster fisherman were fishing and coexisted with these mammals as they made a comeback. For over 70 or more years we watched the numbers rise as we fished. Maybe8 years ago we heard their numbers rise into the 400+ range, then things started happening to hurt the herd. All sorts of marine activity started taking place as well. Things such as seismic testing,fast ferry boats,cruise ships activity, faster marine traffic every where…..and so now we have to make changes to the way we fish. Doesn’t add up, big mistake so called educated people are making.

  2. I agree. This is an egregious double standard. Vineyard Wind should not be given a pass to harm these species. And we should all share the cost of ropeless fishing gear because saving a species from extinction shouldn’t be on the backs of a few people whose livelihood is already impacted by the climate change we’ve all caused.

  3. I’m just curious– How many right whales have been killed by windmills ? Worldwide, that is.
    Can anybody show me even one documented case ?

    • Keller there is no documented evidence that PFAS kill but you rail against them. Let the right whale people protest peacefully in a Don Quixote fashion. Environmentalist protest everything. Why not this one?

    • Could you please take 2 additional mins and look up how many whales have died in non-windfarm areas? Additionally, please report the rate of entanglements with fishing gear for both the Humpbacks and Right Whales.

  4. Lobster line entanglement is a leading cause of death among right whales. Fact, 86% of identified right whales have been entangled one or more times in fishing gear. I like lobster, I don’t like B.S…..

  5. There are 2 questions that NOBODY can answer? How many? And where do they go? The only way to answer these question’s is by tagging each and every one of them. Put an AIS transmitter in the tag. We will have ALL the answer’s then. No but instead the feds’s are gonna tag every lobster boat that fishes federal water’s, which mean’s more money WE will have to pay for the installation and upkeep(monthly fee). Meanwhile this arsenide government is gonna be handing out licenses to FOREIGN OWNED companies to harass and kill our wildlife and our AMERICAN fisherman/women.

    • Dan — a project of this size requires contracts to be written years in advance, and technologies to be developed.
      GE Energy32 and UTC/Clipper Windpower33 are the only U.S.-headquartered utility-scale wind turbine manufacturers.
      They aren’t even close in competitiveness to larger companies around the world, And do not manufacture turbines of the size required for this project , nor does it appear that either company has any experience with offshore applications.
      Given how some people whine about a possible higher price, it is not surprising that the “arsenide government” is handing out permits to companies with proven records that are actually capable of pulling a project of this size off.
      Too bad, but the reality is that U.S based companies are just not up to the challenge.
      Welcome to capitalism in a world wide market.

  6. Just to be clear, lobstermen and women do not kill lobsters, the persons who eat lobster are responsible for that. The one thing you do not want to find in a trap is a dead lobster.

  7. John– Bottle that stretch and take it to a yoga class. —
    I asked for a documented case, not an article saying that windmills might have something to do with a stranded whale.
    And let me be clear about what you are saying– a boat involved in the construction of a wind farm that hits a whale counts as being killed by a windmill ?
    That’s like saying that if a lobster boat hits a whale, it’s a lobsters fault ?
    Time to completely ban lobstering.

  8. Sonar and seismic activity from windmill survey boats kill whales. Ship strikes kill whales. Fishing line not so much in this country. We have strict laws in N. E. About breakaway lines and sink rope. Canadadian crabbers have no laws and they have had the entanglements and that is proven.

    • The Vineyard Wind survey surveys are complete.
      The Survey ships have left the area.
      So there is no further possible harm solely based on your misinformation.

  9. I wasn’t able to read the article because I don’t currently have a subscription but my comment is somewhat tangential. It is my impression from things I have read about the lobster population is that due to climate changes impact on the ocean the lobsters are moving farther north every year so this seems much ado about nothing. IMO by the time the wind farm is built there won’t be a southern NE lobster fishery left to worry about. Perhaps that’s incorrect but that’s how I understand it.

    • A novel rationale is that climate change has made lobsters move north therefore the Lobstermen concern about windmills is irrelevant. They arent here so it doesnt matter.

      • Andy– shouldn’t you be ignoring this issue because you assured us that this project would never happen because of financial issues ?

          • Andy –Let me make sure I am correctly interpreting what you are saying. It looks like you still think that those turbines of the Vineyard One project that is currently in the early stages of construction will never turn. Am I correct in that reading ?
            I just to be very clear about your position on this before I offer you some easy money..

  10. NOAA’s own right whale graph from 1990 – to present , shows 263 right whales in 1990 and steadily increasing until 2010 when they peaked at 480.
    During those years of incline, every lobsterman in the state was allowed to fish 800 traps and absolutely no vertical line configurations. In the 2005 ish , the state implemented their first trap reduction that cut most lobsterman’s allocation in half and started to implement vertical line restrictions and break away parts to prevent entanglements.
    Every year since we’ve faced more trap reductions and greater gear configurations , that have put many out of business.
    Looking at NOAA’s own data , one would think that the whales faired far better when there were less restrictions and more gear in the water.
    What happened in 2010 to start the decline in right whale numbers? In my opinion it’s not the lobstermen but rather ship strikes.
    Commerce has increased dramatically over the last 15-20 years , cargo ships and cruise ships are everywhere . let’s start there , then windmills , then come talk to the lobstermen.

    • Let us understand. You are pointing out the “overfishing ” done by lobster catchers for many years. Excellent point !

      • Tim– I’m not in the business, but I think the people who catch lobsters have done a pretty good job of managing their resource.
        Having said that, my personal opinion is that they should increase the minimum size, as there is a poor ratio of “accessible” meat to lobster “parts” with the chickens.. In the long run, since lobsters are sold by weight , they might be better off selling heavier lobsters, since it would seem that they would eventually get just as many lobsters as they do today.
        Just my opinion–

  11. I hope that no matter what one’s opinion might be regarding the impact of the wind farms on the fragile ecosystem along and within our local waters, we are able to objectively monitor the construction phase of the project with prudence and independence.  If, in fact, there are adverse effects from 40-foot in diameter pile driving (a first in marine construction) into the floor of our ocean, I hope there are powers in place to make them stop.  The decibel levels under water will surely be heard for miles under water. We must do more than hope for the best.  We must be prepared to react appropriately and wisely if and/or when the impact on our ecosystem is destructive . Please make sure the Observers monitoring for whales have the whales in mind and not the interest of the project.

  12. Since we are talking about lobsters and windmills, the base of each piling will have rocks placed in an approximately 1/2 acre area around them to reduce tidal washout.
    I am not a lobsterman, but I think lobsters like rocky areas.
    Am I wrong ?
    Please advise..

  13. Tim— survey boats from different companies are still operating in the area. Vineyard wind may be through but there are other companies just to the SW.

    • Wayne — I am not sure what your point is about survey boats.
      I doubt they are anywhere near 1/100 th of one percent of ship traffic in the area.

      • The very strong sonar from these ships has been proven to injure whale and other sea life. That’s my point.

        • Wayne–Sonar issues are a new twist. We know that sonar from oil research vessels is strong enough to injure some marine mammals, but they are looking for stratification’s at depths of hundreds if not thousands of feet below the ocean floor.
          Even at those levels, there is debate about it.
          You use the word “proof”.
          I have been seeing that word used quite frequently here. But it is not often that someone is able to show that “proof”. So let’s set a bar here– peer reviewed studies, physical evidence , etc.
          I know that pile driving will also create serious noise in the oceanic environment. V.1 is attempting to reduce that also.

  14. I’m sorry to post again , I counted 4 survey boats there today ( on AIS). Also the CG are issuing warnings that a pod of right whales just south of Nantucket and a 10 nt speed restriction has been implemented.

  15. From Aug 5, 2021

    On Tuesday, NOAA fisheries staff responded to reports of a North Atlantic right whale in distress after having been struck by a vessel approximately 12 nautical miles offshore Martha’s Vineyard and 12 nautical miles offshore Nantucket in the northern portion of Vineyard Wind’s lease area (OCS-A 0501). The vessel involved is a construction vessel serving activities at the area known as Vineyard Wind 1 Offshore Wind Energy Project. “

  16. It’s really a shame that this project as well as all the others along the east coast is allowed to happen. So many people are so miss informed about the consequences .

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