Offshore Wind Will Be Boon For Rec Fishing

Offshore Wind Will Be Boon For Rec Fishing

Editor:

Some in the Town of Ocean City believe wind towers 12 miles and more offshore will be an eyesore. Personally, I do not. I think most summer days we’d be challenged to even see the closest ones 12 miles out. Unlike crisp, clear days of fall, in summer I often cannot see OC’s skyline on the way back in from fishing until seven to 10 miles or so offshore. I rarely see OC 16 miles out in summer. Weather is the determining factor.

When I do see OC’s high rises, I do not consider them ugly, even though the skyline of Assateague Island is so vastly different in its natural preservation.

Unlike supposed effects on tourism of a sometime visible ocean windfield, acidification is no guess. If willing to sacrifice our ocean because the view changes somewhat, I fear this policy short-sighted in the extreme. We must move as far as possible from today’s fossil fuel dependency as swiftly as possible. Is Maryland’s windfield enough? Certainly not, but we must begin.

Marine fisheries scientists’ greatest fear about increased CO2 is not warming and sea level rise. It’s ocean acidification. NOAA says the ocean absorbs about 25% of carbon we release. Others believe it to be closer to 50%. The world’s leading experts think acidification might become so extreme as to prevent calcifying/forming shell. They believe this is already happening in the earliest life stages of oysters off Oregon/Washington.

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Of all the shellfish we can think of, however, and all are affected by rising PH, especially in the earliest life stages, there are innumerably many more shellfish at the plankton level including the ocean’s top food source, krill. Clams, scallops, conch and all corals too are affected. Shells make the ocean, as we know it, come alive.

Acidification primarily comes from air pollution. The ocean collects acidified air pollution from everywhere.
Automobiles certainly, but big power generation is the main producer of marine acidification.

We have a gift in ocean energy. Were we to learn to capture wave energy and turn it into electricity, we could reduce our need for fossil fuels tremendously. Same might be said of currents. The Gulf Stream is the most powerful current on earth. It’s just a few miles offshore in some places along the south Atlantic.

Another is wind energy.  We must learn to make energy that does not increase CO2. Regardless how imperfect, we must use what is known today and begin.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Coastal Program began holding meeting after meeting about marine wind power construction in 2009. Those meetings continued until 2013. Everyone who made a living at sea off Maryland’s coast was asked for input. Commercial trawl fishers, trappers, gillnetters, conch potters and recreational fishers all told MD DNR where we did not want wind towers. Assateague Island National Seashore and a multitude of other agencies made comment also. The result was a map of lease areas eventually offered for auction to the highest bidder.

I believe it was an outstanding example of good governance. Those tasked with finding suitable locations for wind towers made a sincere effort to hear all concerns.  For my part, I tried to ensure towers were not placed too near our remaining natural corals.

Wind energy surveys raised my blood pressure through the roof from 2012 into 2015. Their ‘sub-bottom profiler’ equipment scared sea bass and flounder from every bit of reef within three or four miles of the Wind Energy Area — approximately 500 square miles was evacuated by fish. I had a video made in January 2016 with Go-Pro footage we’d shot on the last day of August 2015 and compared it to video of the exact same bottoms from 2004. The difference in sea bass population was amazing. Swarms of fish vs none.

There was positively no response from anyone. Surveys continued until finished. The region has since recolonized with reef fish and fishing is again as good as other areas.

During wind tower construction, I anticipate further disruption of our fishing.  But after this final disruption the result will be multi-legged wind towers with boulder armored bases creating, I believe, the greatest boon to Maryland’s coastal recreational fishing ever.

Party boats like mine will be less likely to benefit. But private boats and charters, fishing only from one side or the stern, will enjoy immensely.

Indeed, sightseeing tours of the windfarm will become far more important along our waterfront, let alone boats servicing wind infrastructure.

We live in an age when illogical conclusion and downright fabrication are commonplace as tools to sway public opinion. A time when any convenient verbiage is used to sway perception no matter how distant from truth. Although our duty as citizens is to research before forming opinion, the fact is we cannot look deeply at everything.

An argument was recently made before Ocean City Council by a trawl net manufacturing representative. Quoting scientific work that surely exists but I’ve been unable to find, she held “sand bottom is the most productive bottom in the mid-Atlantic” and that building artificial reefs is the worst thing we could do to our marine environment. She claimed, “So what will happen if these (wind) structures are put in is it will reduce productivity.”

She held that, in our area, sand bottom is more biologically productive than reef. How curiously uninformed for someone whose industry is so utterly dependent on ocean health.

I’ve fished party boats from Ocean City 38 years. I’m confident wind towers will be the greatest improvement to our fisheries ever. I’m also hopeful of US Wind’s talk of helping with other reef constructions on an annual basis.

The only way to combat ocean acidification is to reduce CO2 outputs. Whether wind, solar, wave, current, nuclear or of other methods, if we continue on course with fossil fuels, it won’t matter.

Where today we are on the brink of re-enlivening estuarine oyster populations using rock substrates, we might again see blue waters as they witnessed three generations ago — might again see billfish just five miles off the beach. Acidification continued means we’ll have no chance at oyster reef restoration. They’ll not be able to form shells at their earliest life stages.
Will Maryland’s marine wind energy component resolve threat of ocean acidification? Heck no, but it’s a start. Wind towers are a whole lot less ugly than a dead sea.

Monty Hawkins

Ocean City

(The writer is the captain of the Morning Star party boat, president of the Ocean City Reef Foundation and chairman of the Maryland Artificial Reef Committee.)

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.