Thursday, June 13, 2024

Offshore wind development plans alarm inshore fishery

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

  • June 14 2023

GUYSBOROUGH – Fishers groups have seen a draft of the province’s plan for offshore wind developments – and they’re very concerned.

Last week CBC news reported on the roadmap, which had not yet been released publicly but had been shared with some stakeholders. The news organization obtained the report and shared it publicly via an online document site.

In the ‘Minister’s Message’ prefacing the document, Tory Rushton, minister of Natural Resources and Renewables wrote, “Nova Scotia is actively exploring the potential of offshore wind…That’s why we’ve set a goal to offer leases for five Gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. We also know our budding green hydrogen industry will flourish with clean electricity from offshore wind.”

The roadmap document states that access to seabed rights under Nova Scotia jurisdiction —which include bays such as Chedabucto Bay, St. Margaret’s Bay and the Bras d’Or Lake – suitable for the first commercial scale projects may be available for lease as early as 2024.

Nearshore wind development

In the discussion of offshore wind development areas, the roadmap states preliminary analysis has been done to assess possible locations for offshore wind turbines. That research focused on factors such as wind speed, water depth and distance to ports – but not the environmental and social impacts of offshore wind projects.

The report also states that the province is, “exploring how a commercial offshore wind project in Nova Scotia’s nearshore could work to support research and innovation.”

It adds that, in waters under provincial jurisdiction, “Early commercial-scale offshore wind could be developed closer to shore… [and] could proceed based on a 2023 request for information from interested developers, followed by a competitive licensing or permitting process in 2024.”

To say that this information is of concern to the fishing industry is an understatement.

The Journal spoke with Ginny Boudreau, long-time manager of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association (GCIFA) on June 8 about the draft report. She said the association has many questions about the impact offshore wind development, and the development of projects reliant on the energy produced from such wind farms, will have on the marine environment and the industry the association represents. So far this year, two projects slated for the Strait of Canso, EverWind Fuels and Bear Head Energy’s green hydrogen and ammonia facilities, will rely on wind energy.

Specific concerns for Chedabucto Bay

While the province has the right to issue seabed leases anywhere in its jurisdiction, Boudreau predicts that Chedabucto Bay and nearby areas will be their initial area of focus.

“We’re the low-lying fruit – low population, low economic contribution to the overall picture of the fishery,” said Boudreau. “They’ll start here for a whole bunch of reasons. And as well, if you look at Chedabucto Bay, the Strait is already industrialized. We have Bear Head now and EverWind, that infrastructure, they’re going to want to bring that up through the bay…you have all these things coming together and very low fishing activity compared to the whole province. Mind you, this 10 per cent or 15 per cent is 100 per cent of our fishery.”

Asking questions, waiting for answers

Boudreau and her counterpart representing inshore fishers in the Richmond area met with MLAs Greg Morrow (Guysborough-Tracadie) and Trevor Boudreau (Richmond), as well as Nova Scotia’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Steve Craig in Halifax on June 2.

“The only agenda item was offshore wind and the infrastructure on the marine side of the renewable energy sector, this new developing industry for Nova Scotia, and what the possible effects would be to our fishery in Chedabucto Bay and the surrounding areas,” Boudreau told The Journal.

One of many concerns Boudreau brought to government officials was the requirement in many fisheries, that the activity take place in specific areas which could not be relocated.

“For Richmond County, their LFA (Lobster Fishing Area) 29, they’re landlocked…Every other LFA in Atlantic Canada has 50 miles from shore that they can fish. LFA 29 is land locked, they’re not allowed outside the bay,” Boudreau said adding, “The shrimp trap fishery is not allowed to take place anywhere else other than in Chedabucto Bay.”

And those aren’t the only confined fisheries in the area; similar restrictions apply to mackerel and scallops. Boudreau questions and has yet to find answers as to where these fisheries will go, if wind turbines start taking up real estate close to shore as the province suggests they will in the draft roadmap. And with seabed leases for offshore wind development set to be handed out next year, and the province noting in the draft document that more information is needed to assess the environmental and social impacts of such projects, concern is raising to the level of alarm.

Concern over scale of new industry

The GCIFA also worries about the cumulative effect of so much new industry in the area. They are particularly concerned about the proposed green hydrogen and ammonia facilities in the Strait – EverWind notably states on its website that their “windmill farm will be the largest in the Western Hemisphere when it is completed.”

Boudreau said the traffic in the Strait these projects will necessitate, from the delivery of wind turbine components to the export of ammonia and hydrogen, is a worry. “There will be supply vessels, tug vessels, pilot vessels that will be accompanying these very large ships.”

And that, Boudreau said, leads to many more questions, such as: Will these ships be given berthage? Or anchorage in Chedabucto Bay? What are the risks around that? Will there be an exclusion zone around the vessels carrying ammonia and hydrogen? Will the power supply produced by onshore wind be brought across the Strait via the causeway or underwater? How would that affect the marine environment? As of yet, the association has no answers.

Unlike the open ocean, space in Chedabucto Bay and the Strait of Canso is limited. Boudreau told The Journal that shipping lanes had been expanded in the last decade to accommodate aggregate and petroleum vessels. The area is also home to various fishing industries. If new vessels and turbines are added to the mix, she asked, “Who is giving up space here because there is no space left? Is it going to be the fishing industry because we are low in numbers and are we the low-lying fruit? And where’s the research? They’re planning on issuing seabed licences in 2024…That’s not even a year away…Who’s done the research on all the issue that I just addressed? That’s our problem here. That’s the problem that the fishing industry has.”

Boudreau is also concerned that the main benefits seen locally from the developing green hydrogen/green ammonia industry may only be tax revenues and short-term jobs. She fears the fishing industry is being sacrificed so Nova Scotia can get in on the leading edge of this new industry.

“We want and need this green energy so desperately that I feel we’re moving way too fast, not just on the marine side but on the land-based side as well,” she said.

The association will continue to ask questions about offshore wind development, but Boudreau is afraid they’re fighting a losing battle and told The Journal that, in her opinion, consultation sessions are only there to tick a box on government and industry to-do lists.

The Journal asked Morrow for feedback on his meeting with fishing industry representatives and received the following comment by email, “I appreciated the chance to hear from the group. A big takeaway – one that I’ve heard from speaking previously to individual fishers as well – is the need for consultation. They are not necessarily opposed to these types of projects – they just want to be heard, to have their say. And, as important economic drivers in our rural communities for many years, they deserve that. My ask of them was what did they want to get out of that meeting – again, they want a voice, a seat at the table. We’ve committed to making sure they have that with the appropriate ministers involved in the permitting and development of these projects, including my colleagues in Natural Resources and Renewables and Environment and Climate Change.”