Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Canso fishers advised to learn from Scots’ mistakes in offshore wind

  • February 21 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

CANSO — Leaving the busy English port of Newcastle upon Tyne last month, Ginny Boudreau could hear Elspeth Macdonald’s words ringing in her head as clear as a bell.

“Engage, engage, engage,” the CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had told her during their meeting.

Now back home in Canso, after her week-long mission to understand how the U.K.’s offshore wind boom has affected its fishing industry, Boudreau, manager of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association (GCIFA), is taking those words to heart.

“Renewables in Scotland and, really, the entire U.K. are so much further ahead of us,” she says. “They’ve had offshore wind for 15 years or more. At the same time, their fishing industry is both inshore and offshore with multiple species, fleets, and gear sectors... Regarding wind, we are, in Guysborough, where they were. So, what can we learn from their experience?”

Plenty, it turns out.

With offshore rising to the top of the Nova Scotia government’s agenda, Boudreau was one of several delegates from government and industry selected by the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) to participate in a special fact-finding trip it organized (Jan. 27-Feb. 1) to the North Sea cities of Newcastle and Aberdeen, Scotland.

Says Boudreau: “One of the biggest things that Elspeth Macdonald told us was how important it is for the fishing industry to get into conversations with the wind developers and to stay in conversations with them, so that they know what the community’s concerns are and what the fishing industry’s concerns are.”

Without this, Boudreau says, wind developers might go wherever wanted. In the early days of offshore wind in the U.K. something like that did happen, and the fishing industry there has been paying the price ever since.

“The biggest casualty for them has been loss of space – loss of access to primary fishing biomass. There are 48 [offshore wind] projects that are either up and running or have been leased out. There are no [fishing] exclusion zones around the [wind turbine] platforms, but there are... around the cables that [run] between every single turbine... That infrastructure – cable relay [which] transports energy to land takes up a fair amount of space. And, in most of that space, you can’t fish [with] a trap or a pot. And that’s not saying anything about the trawl fleets or the seiners (vertical fishing nets) that [also] can’t fish in and around these cables.”

Macdonald’s advice for Guysborough’s fishers is to “engage” all parties in the area’s emerging offshore wind industry early and often regarding “marine spatial planning” in and around their fishing grounds. “They [U.K. fishers] would have benefitted so much from this,” Boudreau says. “They would have had discussions on where these [wind projects] could and should happen. The negative effects on their fishing industry could have been lessened.”

Beyond this, “The other piece of advice she had for us was to make it a requirement that is legal and binding for [wind] developers to compensate [fishers] who do get displaced for loss of access... to have some kind of legal documentation.”

Ultimately, Boudreau says, offshore wind development is likely here to stay and for good reasons. “The renewable sector is the way to go. There’s no argument within our community – or even within the fishing sector – that this has to happen. We realize we have a very valuable resource here in wind energy that we can develop. That’s not open for discussion or argument.”

What is, she insists, is the way this emerging industry is developed in Guysborough – recklessly or with forethought and sensitivity to the existing fisheries that employ thousands of people directly and indirectly along this part of the province’s Eastern Shore, and account for millions of dollars in commercial revenue.

“We know that all this can be done without putting the fishing industry out of business and interrupting the low-carbon production of a very high-quality protein food source for the world... It was very affirming to hear what the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had to say. And it was equally good that all of us in our delegation heard it together.”

In addition to Boudreau, representing GCIFA, the 12-person mission – conceived and coordinated by MODG Chief Administrative Officer Barry Carroll – included representatives from the municipality, the provincial government, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Strait of Canso Offshore Wind Task Force.

Carroll is expected to report on the trip to MODG council at its Feb. 21 meeting.