The burgeoning development of offshore wind energy along the East Coast of the United States is drawing attention to a growing concern: the potential impact on the livelihoods of commercial fishermen who operate in these waters. The collision between the expanding renewable energy sector and the established fishing industry has ignited a debate over the future of these shared waters.

While not all fishing organizations oppose offshore wind projects, some fishermen, such as Dave Aripotch in Montauk, N.Y., have expressed fears that their industry is at risk. They argue that their concerns have been overshadowed by the rapid push for clean energy solutions.

A key concern among these fishermen is the impact on their ability to operate within the vicinity of offshore wind turbines. They argue that deploying fishing gear between the turbines — even when they are spaced a mile apart, as seen in the Vineyard Wind project — is unsafe. This concern essentially renders thousands of acres of fishing grounds off-limits.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees the leases for offshore wind areas, acknowledges that fishermen’s maneuverability among the turbines may vary depending on vessel size, gear and weather conditions. Furthermore, the turbines can disrupt marine radar, a crucial navigation tool, particularly in low-visibility conditions common along the North Atlantic Coast.

The issue of radar interference isn’t limited to the fishing industry alone; it could potentially affect military and search and rescue operations as well.

BOEM has moved forward with the expectation that fishermen will adapt to these challenges, but uncertainty remains, and some fishermen are unwilling to take the risk.

Lawsuits have emerged as a result of these concerns. Seafreeze Ltd., along with Aripotch, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and others, filed a lawsuit challenging the Vineyard Wind project’s approval. The Texas Public Policy Foundation is representing them in the lawsuit, emphasizing the potential impact on their livelihoods.