That Summer Wind - The Fisherman

That Summer Wind

Like any good argument, there are two highly-charged sides to the New Jersey wind debate. On one side you have folks who see windmills as the answer to global emissions and good structure to fish; on the other are those adamantly opposed to international companies industrializing U.S. waters for subsidized profit based on “fossil fuel free” ideology. As with many polarized discussions, I have found myself with a foot in each camp, struggling to make sense of the gray area in the middle. Scientifically speaking, what lies in the middle of this debate however is an electromagnetic force field that has the potential to forever change our fluke fishery at the Jersey Shore.

Over the past several months, fishing clubs have hosted speakers (essentially hired by wind companies and environmental organizations) to extol the angling virtues of offshore wind farms. At the same time, organizations like the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) have released rather bombastic position statements in opposition. In a letter to the White House, RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio called industrial wind farms “an environmental scam of epic proportion,” urging President Trump to halt the process. Donofrio is not one to mince his words; when it comes to windfarms off the Jersey shore, I don’t expect him to.

New England activists who have only a handful of freestanding windmills in their front yard say the structure is great for attracting fish. Then again, they don’t have state-managed artificial reef systems that were built by anglers and maintained specifically with anglers in mind. It’s important to remember that what’s proposed at the Jersey Shore is significantly larger in scope than what’s in place up in New England, with literally hundreds of windmills expected to be built here in the next few years. Despite existing studies, it seems wind proponents are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to the avoidance behaviors of species vitally important to New Jersey’s fishing community. I’ve discussed the issue with a few biologists who agree that important questions remain unanswered. When you look at the massive overseas windfarms, this science should be cause for concern.

Denmark has been a pioneer in commercial wind power since the 1970s; as noted in one 2012 study compiled by researcher Jennifer McCann of the Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island, Denmark also has first-hand experience with flounder problems around the structure.

“Flounder were some of the only species to show correlations between the strength of the electromagnetic fields from cables and increasing avoidance behaviors around cables, as their catches decreased around charged cables in Denmark.”

The Danish company Orsted wants to build an 1,100-megawatt farm just 15 miles off the coast, running north from Hereford Inlet to Absecon, with a couple hundred windmills generating electromagnetic current along a spiderweb complex of seafloor cables, all connecting to one main substation that will deliver energy ashore in a massive cable. NJ’s governor hopes to see power doubled in the next 15 years, with more windfarms ultimately expected to connect Absecon to Sandy Hook across one, expansive north/south gray area.

Our nation’s federal fisheries law (Magnuson Stevens Act) was implemented in 1976 to restrict foreign companies from setting up shop in our EEZ, reaping our nation’s natural resources while raping the fishing grounds. So how is Orsted getting a free pass from our state and federal government? And what happens when our summer flounder species don’t pass freely across those undersea power grids on the way in from the canyons every spring?

Those Danes know what happens; they have the science at home that shows that flounder display “increasing avoidance behaviors around cables” resulting in decreased catches near electromagnetic fields. Will summer flounder make a hard right every spring, bypassing New Jersey’s electromagnetic barrier entirely? What if fluke completely avoid our back bays once the governor’s green goal becomes reality in the next few years? Seriously, what if?

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