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Whales on losing side of wind energy

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Environmentalists want to crack down on the Maine lobster industry in the name of protecting endangered whales, but they turn a blind eye to the greater threat to whales from proposed offshore wind farms. The irony is almost as delicious as the lobster dinners at stake.

Green groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife routinely target commercial fishing by claiming that it causes ancillary harm to marine species protected under the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws. This includes the North Atlantic right whale, whose population of only 350 or so migrates up and down the Atlantic Coast and can cross prime lobster territory off New England.

These activists have supported costly additional federal measures that purportedly reduce the risk of whale injuries and deaths from becoming tangled in the ropes attached to lobster traps or getting hit by the boats. And they have thus far prevailed in federal court, though the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, which believes these new requirements are unnecessary and could spell the end for their small operator-dominated industry, is appealing.

The threat is almost entirely speculative. The Maine lobster industry has co-existed with migrating whales for a long time, and actual confirmed instances of harm are exceedingly rare. “The last known entanglement in Maine lobster gear happened more than 17 years ago, and that whale survived. In fact, there has never been a right whale death in Maine lobster gear,” notes Maine Lobstermen’s Association Vice President Dustin Delano.

Maine law and agreed-upon practices undertaken by lobstermen have a remarkable track record for avoiding problems – be it overfishing or damage to other species – and these practices continue to evolve to address emerging challenges.

While the Maine lobster industry has a solid track record that should dispel any concerns, the same cannot be said of proposals to introduce hundreds and eventually thousands of massive offshore wind turbines. Ten large wind farms have been proposed along the right whale’s migratory path, part of the Biden Administration’s goal of building 30 Gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. It’s a key component of President’s climate change agenda.

Rather than a few pilot projects from which to gain experience, we are rushing into a massive buildout of offshore wind throughout right whale habitat, the consequences of which we will discover the hard way. And the same environmental groups willing to jeopardize the jobs of thousands of lobstermen for the sake of the whales appear to be far less concerned about this large-scale experiment.

The risks to the whales are real.  Bloomberg News recently obtained an internal document in which a senior federal scientist raised concerns that “[a]dditional noise, vessel traffic and habitat modifications due to offshore wind development will likely cause added stress that could result in additional population consequences to a species that is already experiencing rapid decline.” But don’t expect the Center for Biological Diversity or any of the other anti-lobster litigators to file suit this time, as they do not want to stand in the way of President Biden’s climate crusade.

Given the current low numbers, the North Atlantic right whale may or may not survive into the next century. If it doesn’t, America’s risky experiment in offshore wind, and not lobster fishing, will be the far more likely cause.

Ben Lieberman is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market-oriented think tank.

 

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