Three staffers from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) faced a tidal wave of resentment when they met with commercial fishermen on July 11 at the Montauk Playhouse.
The federal employees were there to obtain comments about the federal government’s plan to lease sections of the continental shelf south of Long Island and east of New Jersey for wind farm development.
The highly structured event was supposed to have included a slide presentation and question-and-answer session that was billed “New York Bight Call and Area Identification” in the four-hour event schedule. “Call” areas are those identified by BOEM as suitable for leasing.
Instead a group of about 15 fishermen spent the time peppering BOEM fisheries biologist Brian Hooker with questions, complaints and a few rants, including that of fisherman Chuck Morici, who told the officials they made him sick.
“You guys got some f—ing set of balls to come in here and f—ing you’re going to plow out the whole f—ing ocean. Look at the f—-ing real estate you’re taking! This is a f—ing scam to rob people!” he shouted, before walking out of the room.
Many fishermen apologized, calling Mr. Morici’s rant “unacceptable.” Bonnie Brady, president of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and wife of Montauk dragger captain David Aripotch, also apologized and told Mr. Hooker, “He’s very upset. We’re all very upset.”
“We understand the frustration,” commented Isis Farmer, who is BOEM’s NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) coordinator, “and honestly we’re here to try to present you guys with as much information as we can and to hear what information you’d like to give us … Our job is to make sure we present all of the available information, the best information that we can get, and put it in front of the decision makers.”
“I think everyone in this room just doesn’t want this to happen, to be honest — besides you guys” said fisherman Ryan Fallon. “That’s why we’re all here. You know, I’m a commercial fisherman. My Dad is over in Rhode Island working on a boat that we just went partners on. This is what Kevin’s son is going to support his family on,” he said, referring to another fisherman in the room.
“This is my life. This is my daughter’s life. I almost brought her here to have you guys actually say in her eye, look at her in the eyes and tell her you’re about to screw her. You are about to screw her. You’re going to screw my life. Everything I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid in kindergarten.
“I’ve been on boats since I was born. I’ve fricking been on fishing boats since I was five,” he added near tears. “I’ve been f—ing working since I was 12. And this is what I know. I’ve done other sh-t, always came back to this. This is my life. This is my everything. I will die before you guys take that away from me.”
As Mr. Hooker told the group, the meeting’s purpose was to explore “what areas should be removed for fishing” from the federally designated lease or “call areas” south of Long Island called Fairways North and South and Hudson North and South. They cover more than 2,000 square nautical miles and extend from about 15 nautical miles south of the East End to 135 miles to the south southwest, a point about 35 miles off the coast of southern New Jersey.
Executing federal energy policy, BOEM proposed the call areas, including one section already leased to Equinor, formerly Statoil Wind US LLC, that begins about 25 nautical miles southeast of New York Harbor, in collaboration with New York State Department of State, the New York State Energy Research and Development authority and the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force for the New York Bight.
Mr. Hooker said the goal of the meeting was to collect “fisheries specific” information before making recommendations “to the decision maker, the secretary of the interior delegated to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.” The end of the process is lease sales, Mr. Hooker explained, which already total $68 million for sites from offshore Massachusetts to the Mid-Atlantic.
“And in the lease areas, we’re all going to be able to conduct our fishing operations status quo from before they start any of this?” asked fisherman Anthony Sosinski.
“Or at some point in time we’ll be told we’re no longer allowed in the area someone else has rented? We’re not upset by this. We’re just curious. Where do we stand? You’ve already leased our ocean bottom.”
Mr. Hooker explained that “there are a lot of areas that are already leased but we’ve had only one construction and operations plan submitted so far” for the Vineyard Wind project off Cape Cod. He then corrected himself, adding that another plan has been submitted for the South Fork Wind Farm planned by Deepwater Wind for an area southeast of Block Island to serve the South Fork of Long Island.
“But the idea is to have” the call areas “designed so that fishing will be able to continue within them throughout the life of the project,” which he said would be 25 to 30 years.
Mr. Sosinski expressed concern about wind farm noise driving away migratory fish. “Every animal that moves through this area will be affected at some cost or some way,” he said. “We don’t 100 percent know because this stuff has not completely been studied and it’s being driven, like, hurry up and get it done.”
Mr. Hooker replied, “We do have a lot of studies from Europe and even now from Block Island” as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean showing “how animals behave around the structures.”
“You don’t have any studies of this,” Mr. Sosinski said. “The five windmills off Block Island is like a grain of sand in your hand. You’re talking about an area that’s larger than Rhode Island and Long Island that you’re going to put this stuff out in our ocean.”
“You guys can’t get it,” said fisherman David Aripotch.
“I don’t mean to be rude. It’s like if I said to you, ‘Hey, you know what? You have kids in college. With the house mortgage, the car payment, and everything else, health insurance. Sorry, you’re not going to work for September, October, November there where you traditionally worked for the last 45 years.’”
He added later, “This is a scam. It hasn’t worked anywhere in the world. They’re falling apart in Denmark … the carbon dioxide is higher over there because the plants that are left are running at full bore because they’ve got to rid of plants. And by the way: D. E. Shaw that owns Deepwater, they’re the biggest builders of gas turbines, right? Now what do you need along with” the wind turbines? “An equal amount of power from, oh, that’s right, gas turbines … It’s a scam! We’re sitting here being lied to … I don’t even know what the point is.”
“You guys should come here with the answer. You guys should come here and say, ‘Yes, you guys have legitimate concerns …. So when you take” the lease areas “away from us you can say, jeez, Dave, you’ve fished there three months for 30 years” and pay compensation.
Speaking of compensation earlier in the meeting, he said, “I want to be told, ‘Okay, Dave, area 537, you stock $350,000 every year in October and November there, we’re going close it, we’re paying you $350 grand.’ What is it to you guys? To you guys it’s a lot but to the companies who are delivering this scam and sticking it to us it’s nothing to them.”
Bonnie Brady commented, “There are no regulations, nothing is protecting us. The reality is there’s no protection at all for anyone in this room. We’re all at the mercy of foreign oil and hedge funders.”