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LI fishing grounds mapped as wind farm plans take shape

A Montauk commercial fishing trawler in Block Island

A Montauk commercial fishing trawler in Block Island Sound, seen on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

More than a dozen Montauk fishermen have met with state officials to mark off vital fishing areas on a map that will help determine the best places for the hundreds of offshore wind turbines anticipated for the waters off Long Island.

Led by the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, the group included trawl-boat captains, lobstermen, gill netters and trappers, each determined to preserve their fishing grounds as plans for wind-energy farms take shape.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority came last week with a table-size map of the waters surrounding Long Island, primarily on the South Shore, asking fishermen to mark off areas where they set lobster pots, gill nets or drag trawl nets at various times of year. Different colored markers delineated the different types of fishing activities each engaged in. By the time the two-hour meeting was over, much of the water was covered in circles and squares.

“The goal is to find areas where there is less fishing and less impact,” said Greg Matzat, a senior adviser on offshore wind energy to NYSERDA, who has conducted similar meetings with fishermen and women at the Shinnecock commercial dock and in Montauk earlier this month.

The federal government oversees the auction for leases in waters beyond the three-mile mark, where the turbines will go, but the state will have some control over the process by leveraging the contracts to purchase the energy, including from Long Islanders.

The state has identified a broad wind-energy area that encompasses about 16,740 square miles off the Long Island coast, though a small amount of that area will actually sport wind turbines, officials said.

New York State’s offshore wind plan foresees some 2,400 megawatts of wind turbines in New York and surrounding waters. That is likely to translate to around 240 turbines. Statoil, the Norwegian energy conglomerate, has won a federal lease and begun planning for around 100 of those turbines in an area called the New York Bight, around 15 miles south of Long Beach.

The state is creating a comprehensive plan for offshore wind that will propose additional sites.

One area that was heavily marked by fishermen during the session on Wednesday was due south of the Hamptons, from Remsenburg to Montauk.

“I think once the windmills are in, we can fish around them,” said Chuck Mallinson, a lobsterman and trap fisherman from Montauk. “But they’re going to put us out of business for at least a year while they build them.”

Gill-net fisherman Richard Stevens said there’s so much fishing at various times of year in the proposed areas that the “entire map should be colored in.” He suggested the turbines will make a difficult navigation at sea even harder. “It’s hard enough to work with each other,” putting fixed gear out of the way of trawlers. “Now if you’re trying to avoid wind farms, that can create real problems. It will.”

Montauk lobsterman Vinny Damm has already experienced conflicts. While setting lobster pots several miles south of Montauk last week, he said a boat for Deepwater Wind conducting underwater surveys for an undersea cable was ordering boats out of his way and warning him not to set gear because of his survey work. “I thought they were supposed to work with the fishermen,” Damm said. “This guy had an attitude.”

In a statement, John O’Keeffe, Deepwater’s marine affairs manager, said: “We insist that all of our contractors act professionally and courteously when they’re working on our behalf, and we will not tolerate any disrespectful behavior.” The standard is “especially important for contractors working in active fishing areas where fishermen are hard at work,” he said.

Deepwater requires that the survey boats “be respectful to all fishermen, and work constructively with fishermen so the survey vessel avoids fishing gear.”

He said fishermen with any complaints or questions can contact him directly at jokeeffe@dwwind.com.

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