NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — New Bedford is the top commercial fishing port in the country, but it’s also emerging as an epicenter of conflict between the fishing industry and the growing wind industry.
“This is the war, and we’re going to lose,” said Cassie Canastra, director of operations at Base Seafood, an electronic seafood auctioning company that her father and uncle founded in 1994.
While Canastra is accustomed to dealing with federal regulations on fishing, which she described as frustrating and unpredictable, she said navigating the wind industry feels different.
Canastra called it “defeating” to watch various wind farm projects expand into vital fishing grounds.
“It almost feels like it never mattered — all the work we’ve done to be conservationists,” she added.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said he wants the city to be both the top fishing port and the No. 1 hub for wind energy nationwide, though he recognizes tensions between the two industries need to be addressed.
“We have been dedicated to the proposition that two industries can coexist successfully,” Mitchell said.
When asked if she thinks both industries can thrive in New Bedford, Canastra responded, “I will tell you probably not.”
A recent Bloomberg News report underscored the growing tension, finding that federal officials approved the South Fork wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island despite warnings from government scientists that it would threaten cod and other fish populations.
The 12-turbine project is scheduled to be built on a prominent fish breeding ground called Cox Ledge.
Canastra said the revelation hit close to home, estimating that 35% of Base Seafood’s business comes from fish like cod, haddock and halibut.
Mitchell said the incident showed why the process for approving wind farms needs to change.
“I think the Cox Ledge experience does speak to the need for heightened scientific analysis,” he said. “I think this analysis needs to happen earlier in the process, and the habitat designations have to be taken seriously.”
“It’s crucial for the mayor to come out and say that,” Canastra said in response.
South Fork Wind responded to Target 12’s questions with a statement, saying in part, “We take great care to ensure that offshore wind and wildlife coexist and thrive. The federal lease area designated by the federal government purposely carved out portions of Cox’s Ledge from the outset to reduce potential impacts to habitat and fishing activity.”
Eric Reid is a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, which was established by federal legislation in 1976. He said the council also warned federal regulators about damage to the fish habitat at Cox Ledge.
“Having your input ignored is pretty commonplace, so it’s not any big shock to us,” Reid said. “If history repeats itself, nothing is going to change.”
Mitchell said he’ll take action if the South Fork wind farm does harm fish populations.
“The last resort is litigation, but everything has to be on the table,” Mitchell said.
Tolly Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook