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Fed regulators promise closer talks with offshore fishermen on where new wave and wind energy devices should be placed and tested

Fishing community meets with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

Fishing community meets with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

Commercial fishermen up and down the Oregon Coast invited the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to meet with them in Newport so they could give BOEM a public spanking. But the fishermen were polite about it. And the BOEM folks seem to take it in stride.

Coast fishermen spokesman Bob Jacobsen and others came down hard on BOEM for recently conducting what was described as a very shallow and nearly meaningless set of meetings with fishermen as they tried to find out what kinds of uses the oceans off Oregon are put to, with an eye to stepping up wave energy testing areas which would require certain areas to be put off-limits to fishing.

Fishermen said BOEM’s recent meetings were not advertised nearly enough – the meetings were held when many fishermen were at sea and the questions asked were overly broad as to where fishermen catch their fish – for many, a closely guarded secret.

BOEM representatives.  Pledge much closer relationship as maps are drawn up showing fishing resources as well as energy sources.

BOEM representatives. Pledge much closer relationship as maps are drawn up showing fishing resources as well as energy sources.

BOEM representatives, in a half-hearted attempt to defend themselves, indicated that they are learning that a similar investigative process along the country’s eastern seaboard went very well meaning the two coasts are very different – and it surprised them. They said most east coast communities welcomed offshore wave and wind energy – but not so much on the west coast.

County Commissioner Terry Thompson said communications must improve or "there's going to be lawsuits."

County Commissioner Terry Thompson said communications must improve or “there’s going to be lawsuits.”

Fishermen like County Commissioner Terry Thompson said there is a definite breakdown in communication between BOEM, which, by direction, is promoting ocean wave and wind energy testing which fishermen believe will be at their expense. He said they wonder what fishing grounds will be snatched away from them next. Thompson said some long-time withdrawn fishing zones are now becoming eligible to fish again – but fishermen are getting mixed signals that those zones may stay closed for the foreseeable future.

Dockside Charters Loren Goddard said charter fishing, which is a big economic boon for Depoe Bay, doesn't even have a seat at the negotiating table.

Dockside Charters Loren Goddard said charter fishing, which is a big economic boon for Depoe Bay, doesn’t even have a seat at the negotiating table.

Depoe Bay Charter service owner Loren Goddard told BOEM representatives that charter fishing on the coast is a huge business and economic spark plug for local economies. Yet charter fishing didn’t have a seat at BOEM’s table when they served up their plans, which includes the recently approved Wind Float five propeller wind energy experiment that’s due to be placed offshore from Coos Bay in the very near future.

Retired insurance broker Mike Becker reminded everyone that commercial and recreation fishing along the Oregon Coast is the biggest economic driver – more than timber, more than tourism, more than anything. And when a federal agency comes in and starts telling the coast how to live or what they can or can’t do with the oceans, it’s frightening.

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One BOEM official piped up “We get it! The Oregon Coast should not be sacrificed in the name of wave and wind energy experiments.” BOEM officials then proceeded to remind everyone in the room that a big floating wind energy array will soon be towed out into federal waters off Coos Bay to undergo two years of rigorous testing to see if its design will hold up under very harsh weather off the Oregon Coast.

A couple of fishermen chimed in saying “See, we haven’t even gotten all the data we need to determine where wave and wind energy testing devices should go, and BOEM already has one scheduled to be deployed.”

BOEM said the federal program is to determine where these devices should go and that the Wind Float project is planned to head out to sea fairly soon. She said it’s the ONLY wind energy testing operation that the federal government will propose for a number of years off the Oregon Coast. Other devices are to be tested by an Oregon State University program at a spot out several miles off the south Newport Jetty.

In the end, both sides decided to hug and make up and pledged that the first round of data gleaned from the poorly attended information sessions will not be the final word on things. BOEM pledged to begin a series of meetings with the fishing industry to ensure that future wave and wind energy devices are placed intelligently along the coast and will have the least impact on fishing.

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