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The "Whale Issue"

Granddad Ramblings

When my son-in-law, Jerry Farnham, a/k/a Diesel Jerry, invited me to write something about the “whale issue” affecting the Maine lobster industry, I didn’t have to think too long about what I would say. The challenge would be to contain my comments to just the whale issue and avoid going down three or four other related rabbit holes.

First, for anyone not familiar with the whale issue, lobster fishermen are under attack from right whale protectionists who claim that endangered right whales are dying from entanglements in vertical trap lines. Lobstermen claim that numerous changes they’ve made in lobster gear have resolved this problem, and that no right whale entanglements or deaths have been attributable to Maine lobster gear in nearly 20 years. Yet, the accusations continue, and the fishermen are under pressure to eliminate all vertical lines by adopting so-called “ropeless” technology.

But the whale issue is not the only challenge facing the fishermen. It doesn’t take rocket science to discover the connection between the whale issue and the green energy advocates who support development of offshore wind farms in the Gulf of Maine.

Ultimately, the fisherman feel they are under attack from multiple factions that threaten to destroy their way of life and reek economic havoc on Maine coastal communities highly dependent on the lobster fishing industry. It’s a complicated situation involving the fishermen and their interaction (or lack thereof) with various federal, state, and local agencies and organizations, each trying to achieve their respective missions and objectives.

I’m neither a lobster fisherman, nor a tree-hugging/whale-protecting environmentalist. So, you would think that I might not have a huge stake in the outcomes of this issue, one way or the other. Well, I thought that too, but during the last two years I have gained considerable insight on the matter, and now recognize that I have a huge stake in the outcome of the so-called “whale issue”. And, although I am not an energy expert by a long shot, if I am somewhat correct in my realizations, all citizens have a huge stake in the outcomes.

As a senior citizen, I am greatly concerned for my children and grandchildren. They are the ones who will have to live in a future that is being shaped by current local, national and global energy policy. We are already seeing the economic impacts that expose the fallacy of these policies. The situation will get worse before the need for corrections are broadly recognized, and then it may take years to recover.

I know this sounds like a doom and gloom scenario. Well, yes, it is. But it competes with the doom and gloom predictions of the Save The Planet narrative of the current green energy policy agenda.

And, it’s not just energy policies that threaten our future. Those are topics (rabbit holes) for another day, and beyond the intended core message of this blog.

So, what is the intended message of this blog? Simply stated, the “whale issue” is not really about the whales. And, I believe almost all the parties involved in the controversy know that it’s not about the whales. Rather, the whale issue is a “red herring”, intended to distract public attention away from renewable energy development, at least in the Gulf of Maine.

Why do I believe this? Well, recently, I attended a so-called “stakeholder information” meeting in Portland, organized by the (Federal) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The stated purpose of the meeting was to explain the plans and processes of the BOEM as relates to the determination of viable areas in the Gulf of Maine that could be developed for renewable energy, more specifically, ocean wind farm arrays. They also explained that the meeting was to invite feedback from various stakeholders, including from both supporters and non-supporters of wind energy.

Without getting too much into the weeds of what I saw and heard at this meeting, the following observations convinced me that the BOEM isn’t really interested in hearing feedback from stakeholders who might not support their mission and objectives. In my opinion, their appeal for negative feedback was insincere. What it said to me was, we know we have to sound like we really want feedback from all

sides, but we would prefer to hear mainly from those who agree with and support our good work.

1. Not surprisingly, the presentation by BOEM was mostly about how their processes would

identify and rank potential impacts and would include a comprehensive evaluation of

stakeholder impacts, including among others, the fishing industry. The information shared was interesting and I looked forward to what I might hear during the feedback session. The feedback

session was disappointing, and left me feeling that the attitude of the BOEM was typical of a

patronizing government agency that sees itself as the expert whose actions should not be

questioned or criticized. We are here mainly to tell, but we will (pretend to) listen politely to

your ill-informed comments and opinions.

2. Ironically, only two among the 40-50 attendees rose to offer supporting comments, and it

seemed that one of them might have been a prearranged plant.

3. Most surprising was the low number of fishermen in attendance. The few who rose to speak complained that they had not heard about the meeting until a day or so before. All further complained that members of the fishing industry feel they are either excluded from stakeholder

processes, or that their input is disregarded, or otherwise not taken seriously, by any of the

government agencies involved in the process.

4. One person, whose role I understood to be that of a neutral party trying to help facilitate

dialogue among various stakeholders, commented that the government agencies and the

fishermen seem to be “talking past one another”. This was our most significant take-away from the meeting. It was happening right there before our eyes. My wife, who attended with me, commented about the reaction of the BOEM Chief of the Renewable Energy Programs office, during the comments by the fisherman. The Director had daggers coming from her eyes, aimed directly at the few fishermen who rose to speak.

We left the meeting not feeling optimistic that the “talking past one another” issue would get resolved any time soon. However, we also left the meeting optimistic that the leaders of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), and other stakeholder organizations

representing the fishing industry, may be helpful in breaking down these barriers to communication.

We also left feeling that a very logical recommendation made by the MCFA Executive Director would likely not be given much consideration, given that BOEM’s current mission appears to be in support of the current Administration’s timetable for operational renewable green energy. The MCFA recommendation was to not proceed with further development of ocean wind farms in the Gulf of Maine until the Maine Research Array* is operational and can inform future development in terms of how floating wind farms will integrate with the marine environment and existing ocean uses.

Finally, I should clarify that I am not against all forms of renewable energy. But, I cannot support any form of renewables that threaten to destroy critical habitat or significant industries such as fishing. Moreover, I cannot support ill-conceived government policies that create bigger problems than they solve, especially when they are influenced by equally ill-conceived notions of cause and effect. A clear example of this is our current administration’s policy to replace fossil fuels with renewables by shutting down the fossil fuel industry, without understanding that renewables alone cannot support demand for electricity, especially if electric vehicles are to replace gas and diesel. Of course, it is well understood by

the green energy zealots that America will need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, through the process of replacing gas and diesel.

Bottom line is this: Shutting down fossil fuel before alternatives are developed and proven is a recipe for economic and humanitarian disaster, regardless of whether a global warming crisis exists, or not.

Donald Wescott – Concerned Citizen and Granddad – February 2023

(*) The Maine Research Array is a planned array of 12 floating wind turbines in a 16 square-mile area about 40 miles off Casco Bay.

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