Northeast
Merlin Jackson, left, and Colin Warwick at Inlet Seafood in Montauk last week. Photo by MICHAEL WRIGHT

British Fishermen Offer A Glimpse Of The Future For U.S. Counterparts Worried About Offshore Wind Impacts

A pair of British fishermen told a room full of South Fork commercial fishermen last week that they went through the same sort of battles with wind farm developers 10 to 15 years ago that Northeast fishermen are just beginning to wade into now.

While it was an uphill climb, they said, they have gradually found a way to win some concessions from the giant companies and get a voice, albeit small, in the planning processes for major wind farm developments in United Kingdom waters.

They told of similar frustrations—finding themselves ignored or muted, or poorly represented, or seeing the information they offered rebuffed and misused—that New York fishermen and their representatives say they have experienced as the South Fork Wind Farm and other offshore wind energy projects wend their way toward being built in the waters southeast of Block Island, and as state and federal agencies explore new locations for future wind farm siting in the region.

Over and over, as the South Fork fishermen mentioned the ways that the approval process for such projects seems to pass over their concerns, the two British fishermen, Merlin Jackson and Colin Warwick, would nod and mutter, “It was the same for us,” or “That sounds like 10 years ago in the U.K.”

But they also offered the local fishermen hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it couldn’t yet be seen by those gathered at Inlet Seafood in Montauk on Monday, April 8.

They said they that, over years, and as more projects were built and the problems they caused were aired, fishermen have at least earned a seat at the negotiation table now, thanks to changes by U.K. lawmakers to the licensing guidelines for wind farm projects.

And most of the fishermen are now compensated to some extent by wind farm developers for disruptions in their fishing due to the placement of the wind farms in traditional fishing grounds or by temporary displacement of fishing during the construction process.

With more than 200 turbines already in the pipeline to be built in the Atlantic just beyond Block Island starting in 2020, and hundreds of square miles of additional sea floor within range of Long Island boats leased to multinational wind farm developers, the British fishermen urged those who gathered in Montauk last week to stay engaged and organized if they want to find a way to force themselves into the decision-making process.

“A lesson we learned early on is that ‘no’ is really only a good answer for the first meeting,” said Mr. Warwick, a fisherman from Cornwall with a thick, lyrical brogue, who is now the National Fisheries Liaison Officer for the Crown Estate. “We’ve come a long way.

“It didn’t happen overnight,” he added. “It’s about building trust. You’ve got to keep pushing. You’ve got to keep saying, ‘We’re asking for a voice,’ and ‘Give us a place at the table.’”

Each step of the way for the U.K.’s fishermen has been a fight, echoed Mr. Jackson, who fishes the Thames Estuary, just east of London, where several large wind farms have been built smack in the middle of centuries-old fishing grounds. At the outset, he said, the fishermen were not consulted about siting of wind farms at all and were caught wholly off-guard when the first large projects were presented to them.

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