by Michael Conathan
Earlier this week, Cape Wind—a proposed wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts—quietly turned aside one of its few remaining challenges by coming to a landmark agreement with the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, which had filed a challenge to the project because fishermen feared they would be displaced from traditional fishing grounds. This compromise helps the project move forward, keeps fishermen in business, and shows how a new concept known as ocean-use planning will be fundamental to future management of our ocean space.
As a result of the settlement, Cape Wind agreed to work with the fishermen to ensure they retain access to the area where the wind farm has been permitted and help them set up a permit bank that will own fishing permits for use by Vineyard fishermen in perpetuity.
Think of permit banks like Zipcar for fishermen. A group—fishermen, nongovernmental organizations, or in some cases, states—acquires permits for a fishing area and then leases the affiliated access or quota to eligible participants. Here, participants will be Vineyard fishermen who might otherwise lose their access due to regulators reducing catch limits for certain species rebuilding to sustainable levels. Fewer fish to catch means fewer fishermen can make a living catching them.
Because of geographic and economic realities, the Vineyard’s small fishing fleets operate at a disadvantage compared to their larger counterparts in New Bedford, Gloucester, and other New England ports. So this potential for increased access can help level the playing field and may literally keep their businesses afloat.
In announcing the decision, Warren Doty, president of the Fishermen’s Association, said, “Instead of being on different ends of the fence, we’re going to work together to determine which areas are open to fishing, what areas will be successful for different kinds of fishing, and how to make that fishing safe and available to all fishermen.”
This kind of creative solution, born of committed negotiations between willing and motivated parties, is precisely the kind of outcome proponents of the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy have in mind when they talk about one of the policy’s signature initiatives: ocean-use planning. The concept, also referred to as coastal and marine-spatial planning, is intended to reduce conflicts among an increasingly diverse and populous contingent of individuals and industries competing for use of ocean space.
The Center for American Progress released a report earlier this week, “The Foundations of a Blue Economy,” which makes the case for investment in and development of industries that generate strong economic return for coastal communities without compromising the environmental quality of our oceans and coasts. The report called out both sustainable fisheries and offshore renewable-energy development as pillars of this strategy, and for them both to succeed the kind of coordination Cape Wind and Vineyard fishermen have displayed must be a key component of the equation.
Cape Wind has run a gauntlet of challenges since its inception in 2001: from the lack of a federal permitting structure, to angry Cape Codders fearing tourism and property values would suffer, to multiple spurious legal challenges. Read more