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There is a lot of ocean off the coast of Maine. The Gulf of Maine, which extends from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts, covers about 36,000 square miles. Much of that water is off the Maine coast.
So, it would seem, there is room in those waters for a diversity of activities. Already, there are a multitude of economic endeavors happening off our coast. Seafood harvesting, including lobster, mollusks and fish, is a big part of the state’s economy. So, too, are shipping, cruise lines and recreational boating. Aquaculture is a growing industry. Energy generation is on the horizon.
The state has identified several ocean-centric areas as cornerstones of its economic development and growth. Offshore wind and sustainable food sources, especially fish, were identified as opportunities for both economic growth and climate change amelioration in the 10-year economic plan released by the Mills administration in 2019.
Offshore wind energy is also a key component of the state’s clean energy plans, aimed at reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Less than two years later, both offshore wind and aquaculture are now the targets of complaints and protests from Maine lobstermen and some coastal residents.
We don’t intend to sound trite, but there is room in the water for a diversity of economic activity. The hard work for state and federal officials, with copious input from fishermen, aquaculturists, conservationists, coastal residents and others, is to determine what can be done where. This is not to suggest that the ocean be divided into exclusive zones for specific activities, although that may be appropriate in some areas, but rather to figure out what activities are compatible with one another. This should be based on sound data and research.
To this end, Gov. Janet Mills unveiled a bill that would put a 10-year moratorium on offshore wind development in Maine waters, which generally extend 3 miles from shore. The pause was necessary, the governor said, to allow the state to pursue “responsible development” of offshore wind.
Mills first proposed the moratorium in January.
It does not affect federal waters, where most offshore wind development is likely to happen. The state will continue to pursue a 12-turbine research project 20 to 40 miles from shore in the Gulf of Maine. The project, which will use about 16 square miles of ocean, aims to test floating turbines developed by the University of Maine. The demonstration project will test floating turbines, which are not anchored to the ocean floor and are therefore less disruptive to marine habitat than traditional offshore wind turbines. If these turbines are successful, they could be made in Maine.
The moratorium will also not stop a single test turbine that is slated to be placed off the shore of Monhegan Island. Survey work on that project was suspended briefly last month when lobstermen appeared to interfere with the work.
There are more than 1 million lobster traps set off the coast of Maine. The vast majority are in state waters as only about 20 percent of Maine lobstermen have licenses to fish in federal waters. Fewer still fish in the deep waters more than 12 miles offshore.
This reinforces the notion that Maine’s ocean can accommodate wind and lobster fishing.
“Maine is uniquely prepared to grow a strong offshore wind industry, create good-paying trades and technology jobs around the state, and reduce Maine’s crippling dependence on harmful fossil fuels,” the governor said in a press release announcing the moratorium legislation on Wednesday. “We will focus these efforts in federal waters farther off our coast, as we responsibly pursue a small research array that can help us establish the best way for Maine to embrace the vast economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind. Fundamentally, I do not believe offshore wind and Maine’s fishing industry are mutually exclusive. I believe they not only can coexist, but, together, can help us build a stronger economy with more good-paying jobs and a brighter, more sustainable future for Maine people.”
The only way to determine the compatibility of wind energy and lobstering — and other marine industries — is through research and demonstration projects. Simply saying “no” to offshore wind, as many Maine lobstermen are doing, is not productive.
We know that Maine — and the world — must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. To do so, development of cleaner energy sources is essential to fuel our homes, factories, boats, cars and much more. Offshore wind energy is likely to be a significant part of that equation.
We understand that lobstermen, who feel besieged by trade wars and increasing regulations to protect endangered right whales, are concerned about new uses of the ocean. The best way to address those concerns is to be part of the process that assesses the impacts of these new uses and to join in the writing of rules and regulation to lessen and mitigate any negative consequences.