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Jul 26, 2016 9:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Wind Farms And Fishing

Jul 26, 2016 10:43 AM

The proposal to build a wind turbine farm in the fertile fishing grounds off Block Island has rekindled discussions of whether certain fishing areas should made off-limits to fishermen of all kinds.A lot of details will have to be hashed out before the wind farm becomes a reality, and certain to be at the fore of the hashing will be access for fishermen. The waters 15 miles south of Block Island are some of the busiest fishing grounds in the region, for both recreational and commercial fishermen, and there will be no shortage of input on it in the next couple of years. We should all listen carefully, but also be sensitive to separating self-interested whining from legitimate objection.

To be clear: the Block Island wind farm proposals do not include any proposals to bar fishermen from buzzing around their footings once they are constructed. Just the opposite, the wind farm companies have made it clear that the turbines will be far enough apart for fishermen to weave in and out of them, though some proximity limits—50, 100, maybe 200 yards, as best I can decipher—may be imposed for safety reasons.

In the Gulf of Mexico boats are asked to stay 500 meters from oil rigs, but if you’ve ever fished there you know those limits are rarely heeded—the only reason boats keep any distance from the rigs at all is so hooked fish don’t break off in the underwater rigging—and violations are rarely reported by the rig operators. Divers regularly swim right down the pylons holding up the rigs to shoot amberjack and wahoo lurking in their lee. I would expect, for recreational fishermen anyway, the situation here would be similar (minus the amberjack and wahoo, unfortunately).

Regardless of what you think of the application of wind-generated power, recreational fishermen should be nothing but excited about the prospect of having our own swath of artificial reefs in an area that was once a big game mecca. Could turbines and their bait-gathering qualities bring the giant bluefins back to the Mud Hole?

Commercial fishermen, on the other hand, may have some legitimate concerns about the wind farms, though I’ve seen no evidence that they rise to the level of pre-empting the projects as a whole. Dragger captains and gillnetters have been griping about the ongoing construction of the five turbines already being built, because the construction process has disrupted their ability to fish certain areas, as power transmission cables are laid on the sea floor and construction support vessels move in and out of the construction zone.

Once the turbines are completed the area between and around them will be unrestricted to fishermen. Captains of draggers have complained that they will still be inhibited from fishing the grounds around the turbines, simply because of the presence of the large steel footings.

I say that is an empty argument and that the inconveniences during construction are a small price to pay at absolute worst. But I’m sure we will be hearing more on the subject.

If you read this column, you know that I love the idea of wind-generated energy for all of Long Island. But I’m not yet convinced that large offshore wind farms with dozens or hundreds of turbines are the right way to approach it. In certain limited scales, though, I think they will be of little consequence and could be fantastic for fishermen.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

Catch-And-Release Striper Surfcasting

The region’s newest surf fishing club, the Unreel Anglers, have announced that they will be hosting a catch-and-release tournament this fall. Like the group’s popular spring tournament series, the contest will cover just a one-month stretch and first prize will be a Van Staal reel, so the shot at winning is good for an intrepid angler.

It’s an interesting approach. Winners will be determined by fish length and anglers will have to submit three photos of their catch: one showing them with the fish, one showing the length of the fish against an approved tape measure and one documenting the release of the fish. The rules don’t say it but I’m going to assume that one video of the whole event would also suffice.

The entry fee will be $40, payable through PayPal to unreelanglers@gmail.com, or at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. For each entry fee, Unreel Anglers will donate $5 to Kids Need More, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of children battling cancer.

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