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Advocates Say Wind Farm Plans Interfere With Fertile Fishing Areas


The Biden administration has opened up the East Coast to massive offshore wind development. One leader in this push to tackle climate change is New Jersey, but its planned wind farms would be in some of the country's most fertile fishing grounds. Susan Phillips of member station WHYY in Philadelphia reports.


SUSAN PHILLIPS, BYLINE: It's a busy day at Dockside Packing in Atlantic City. A crane operator offloads cages of Atlantic surf clams.


PHILLIPS: Captain Tom Dameron says each one contains 2,000 pounds of clams, dredged with a giant rake from the bottom of the ocean.

TOM DAMERON: You have a knife blade that actually digs into the bottom. We would be afraid of that part coming into contact with the electric cables.

PHILLIPS: Those electric cables would carry power from hundreds of giant wind turbines. They will rise more than 80 stories tall, like a forest of steel bolstered by a bed of rocks on the seabed, and stretch over hundreds of thousands of acres. Dameron spent decades harvesting the clams that end up in cans of chowder on grocery store shelves or served in restaurants. Now he manages a fleet of clam vessels for Surfside Foods. He says with offshore wind farms, clammers will compete for a smaller patch of ocean.

DAMERON: It's basically going to lead to localized overfishing, which has the potential to lead to the collapse of this fishery here in Atlantic City.

PHILLIPS: And it's not just clammers. Fishermen say it would be dangerous to maneuver through the wind farms in bad weather, and they worry how the structures will impact ocean currents, temperatures and migration patterns. But Dameron says clammers could be among the worst hit. About 20% of their average yearly catch comes from the areas now slated to be wind farms.

DAMERON: We're literally fighting for the existence of the clam industry to remain in the port of Atlantic City.

PHILLIPS: Researchers like shellfish ecologist Daphne Munroe are racing to figure out what this massive industrialization of the ocean will mean. Her computer modeling shows fishermen like Dameron are right to be fearful.

DAPHNE MUNROE: The concentration of fishing to certain parts of the ocean are probably going to mean that there will be a depletion of the stock. It'll probably mean that the fleet won't be able to operate the way they are now, but it certainly hasn't changed the planning and leasing strategy for where these wind farms are going to go.

PHILLIPS: Orsted, the Danish company that will build and operate about 200 wind turbines, says the fishermen will be able to fish between the structures. Orsted's Maddy Urbish says the company believes it can coexist with the fishing industry.

MADDY URBISH: In terms of some of the concerns about trawling, the undersea cables are buried quite deep, and we have no interest in having any equipment caught on them either.

PHILLIPS: Urbish says an even greater threat to the fishery is warmer oceans from climate change, the very reason for the rush to build industrial-scale wind power. It's a dilemma that researcher Daphne Munroe knows well.

MUNROE: It's one of those interesting trade-offs, right? So we have to do something about climate change. Green energy is an option, but, you know, we also have sustainable fisheries that are some of the most efficient ways of producing proteins for human consumption.

PHILLIPS: A fishing industry group has filed suit over a similar wind farm off Massachusetts. The Biden administration is considering how to compensate the fishing industry for any losses.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Phillips in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.