Commercial Fishing

Commercial Fishermen Say Biden Admin’s ‘Ocean Justice’ Initiative Ignores Their Concerns

Commercial Fishing
Commercial Fishing (File) By Nick Pope, DCNF.

The Biden administration has a new strategy to infuse social justice into ocean-related policies and regulations, but many people who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the administration is effectively ignoring them to pursue its climate agenda.

The administration announced the “ocean justice” strategy in December 2023 during the United Nations (UN) climate summit, known as COP28, in order “to advance environmental justice for communities that rely on the ocean and Great Lakes for economic, cultural, spiritual, recreational and food security purposes.”

However, several stakeholders in the commercial fishing industry who depend on the fruits of America’s waters to make a living — and are therefore interested in sustainable use of the oceans — say that the administration is overlooking their concerns about how the oceans are managed, especially with regard to the administration’s extensive efforts to fast track industrial scale offshore wind projects.

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Commercial fishing groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have warned that offshore wind turbines and their transmission lines could disrupt marine ecosystems upon which fisheries and related businesses rely. Nevertheless, the administration is pushing a massive offshore wind buildout up and down the East Coast and looking to bring the technology to California’s waters alongside its “ocean justice” strategy, which the White House says is designed to ” improve the well-being of people in communities connected to the ocean.”

“I have written hundreds of pages of comment letters, attended countless federal meetings, webinars, phone calls and more, regarding offshore wind, opposing the siting and construction of offshore wind farms on our historic and productive commercial fishing grounds, which has the potential to completely wipe out the U.S. commercial fishing industry,” Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for Sea Freeze, an east coast fishing company that harvests fish and squid in the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic, told the DCNF. “The Biden administration’s response has been to speed up permitting and project approval, hold fewer public meetings, reduce the quality of material provided for comment, ignore the input of other cooperating agencies regarding impacts to commercial fishing and continue to lease and site offshore wind at blistering speed.”

The White House also published a report that provides a detailed description of its “ocean justice” strategy in December 2023. The report states that “many communities that live near the ocean, depend on marine resources, or are part of the ocean economy face unique circumstances that exacerbate their existing challenges and prevent equitable access to the benefits the ocean provides.”

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“Ocean communities with a significant proportion of people who are Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander may be disproportionately affected by ocean-related health and environmental harms and hazards, as may be communities with a significant proportion of people who experience persistent poverty or other forms of social inequality,” the White House report asserts.

However, some stakeholders counter that offshore wind and burdensome, ineffective ocean regulations pose threats to communities that economically depend on the oceans and their fisheries, regardless of racial or ethnic composition.

“I find the ‘ocean justice’ strategy a bit ironic when fisheries such as the Maine Lobster fishery (one of the most sustainable in the world) are constantly at risk of being put out of business by bad policies and regulations stemming from our government, yet we don’t have a seat at the table,” Dustin Delano, the COO of the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association, told the DCNF. “Fishermen are the true experts and spend far more time on the ocean than any government agency. The lobster industry brings in a billion dollars annually just in Maine alone, and it contributes to far more than just lobsters being available in restaurants … The failure to include fishermen in the ‘ocean justice’ strategy is complete blasphemy in the eyes of any true environmentalist, which is your local fisherman.”

The report further states that a key aim of the strategy is to encourage agents to “embed ocean justice in federal activities” by providing “meaningful community engagement” and “better incorporate equity into funding processes.”

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“Who is considered an influential stakeholder is determined as a matter of policy, not as a matter of fact. Of course, as a matter of fact, the U.S. commercial fishing industry is the definition of an ocean stakeholder,” Lapp told the DCNF. “But as a matter of policy, we are second class citizens, particularly as regards federal deference to foreign government owned offshore wind companies.”

Offshore wind is a key pillar of the White House’s sweeping green energy agenda, with the administration hoping that the technology will provide enough energy to power 10 million American homes by 2030. Despite these efforts, the industry finds itself in a tenuous position: major developers are canceling power purchase contracts with states and utilities because of inflation, high interest rates and logistical challenges, and a significant share of contracted capacity is now under significant financial duress, according to Reuters.

“Displacement of fishing operations, both at sea and shoreside, by offshore wind energy development is expected to negatively affect fisheries-dependent employment in these communities,” Anne Hawkins, executive director for the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, told the DCNF. The strategy “ignores the critical connection between seafood production and marginalized populations” and “totally fails to recognize that the fishing industry is an extremely important source of employment and cultural heritage in exactly the communities that are typically considered targets of ‘environmental justice’ policies,” she added.

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Beyond green energy generation, the administration also posits that the construction and maintenance of industrial scale offshore wind projects will create decent, well-paid union jobs for the ocean economy. As the administration does in other industries that may see their workers displaced by a green transition, officials assert that a “just transition” into the reshaped economy will allow workers dislodged from marginalized industries to be well-positioned to find new employment opportunities in the green economy.

More than 3 million jobs nationwide are directly related to the resources available in the Great Lakes and oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. America’s existing ocean-based industries, including commercial fishing, already stimulate coastal economies and provide many working-class communities with a solid pathway to socioeconomic stability and upward mobility, Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, told the DCNF.

“I have had wind proponents suggest to multi-generational fishermen that if they lose their jobs they can be retrained to ferry supplies and people to and from turbine farms. Aside from being deeply offensive, this type of rhetoric reflects the same type of consideration we seem to be getting from the Biden administration,” Mann told the DCNF. “Trading existing jobs related to fishing and sustainable food production for floating offshore wind energy is irresponsible and in no way providing ocean justice to our communities.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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