Fishermen worried about wave energy


There's a new kind of storm rolling into the Oregon coast, and it's driven by conflicting interests in ocean real estate. Nine different wave energy studies are targeting space in the state's territorial waters, many of them on sandy ocean bottoms that overlap with productive fishing grounds.

Even though most of the proposals are aimed at the central and southern Oregon coast, North Coast fishermen say they're not too thrilled about the new players competing for use of the ocean &

especially when coupled with the state's plans to rope off ocean waters for marine reserves. North Coast commercial fishers often travel down the coast to find their catch.

They say the wave parks would not only cost them money in lost grounds, but it would also block central transit routes and crowd North Coast waters with displaced fishermen.

"What they start down there, it affects that particular area, but it could have far-reaching effects if it's successful," said John Corbin, president of the Astoria Crab Marketing Association. "They could come all the way up the coast."

Steve Theberge, Oregon State University extension agent in Astoria, said so far North Coast fishers have been "lucky" to have just one preliminary proposal for tidal, or river current, energy in the Columbia River estuary. But he said local fishermen have a stake in projects all along the coast.

"The fishing industry is very concerned," he said. "The trawlers and the crabbers and trollers &

everybody who fishes in the ocean is concerned. Everybody's kind of looking at the same bottom."

The potential for Oregon to develop renewable wave energy off the coast has generated a lot of excitement statewide; a 2004 study showed Oregon's wave energy had the potential to supply 20 percent of the state's electrical power needs. Waves are more reliable than wind, another favored renewable energy, and much denser, which means they can deliver more power. But tapping that power raises a lot of new problems.

Conflicts with fisheries is just one in a long list of issues state leaders are working through as private companies line up to test buoy technology off the coast. Among the questions under review are how the wave park equipment will affect seabirds, currents, marine mammals and other aquatic life, water quality, lost gear, collisions and ocean emergencies, including tsunamis.

The first company to place a test buoy in Oregon waters was Finavera Renewables, a Canadian energy developer, and when that buoy sank last month, some said it confirmed their fears about siting a new energy source in the tumultuous Pacific Ocean.

One of the most vocal groups in the wave energy debate has been Oregon's Dungeness crab fishermen, whose most productive grounds also happen to be ideal ocean bottom and depth conditions for wave parks. Dungeness crab is the state's most valuable fishery; it involves 433 permitted crab boats that last year brought $30 million into 10 Oregon ports and more than $150 million in estimated income statewide.

"Location has always been our issue with these projects," said Hugh Link, administrator of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. "We're all for renewable energy, but if its going to affect fishing grounds, we need to make sure it doesn't drastically affect the fishery."

Corbin said the local fleet is very mobile in the first two weeks of the Dungeness crab fishery, and many North Coast boats would be affected by the impacts of the wave parks to the south. If all the proposed wave energy projects go forward, he worries, not only will there be fewer grounds to fish, but the routes from one spot to another could be blocked.

"They'll go anywhere on the coast," he said. "There's a lot of people who just fish in front of their home port, but there's others who will travel. We get a lot of California and southern Oregon boats up here"

The front-runner in the race to set up wave parks off Oregon's coast is the Ocean Power Technologies project, proposed for a site — miles off the coast of Reedsport. The company proposes a park with 200 buoys across a space that's — mile wide and 5 miles long. But that proposal, like all the others in Oregon, has not yet entered the formal federal permitting process.

So far, five entities have preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of wave or tidal energy in Oregon; those permits give companies &

and in the case of Lincoln and Douglas counties, governments &

priority consideration for that turf; four more preliminary permits for Oregon coast sites are in line for approval.

The clash between fishing grounds and wave energy space has sparked fishermen along the coast to form stakeholder groups, including one for fishers in Tillamook and Garibaldi called the Fishermen's Advisory Committee &

Tillamook (FACT). Organizer Darus Peake, a commercial crabber who runs the Tillamook Boat House in Garibaldi and sits on the Oregon Salmon Commission, said fishermen are worried that decisions on siting wave parks are going to be made without their input.

"We're pretty much down on it if it's anything that's going to come and take over our grounds," he said. "We're talking about parks that will take up a 2- to 3-mile area &

that's huge. And then they want to put a buffer zone around it. We have no real control on these people. A lot of it is, of course, unknown. ... We're at a scary point."

Meanwhile, Oregon State University scientists, led by electrical engineering and computer science professor Annette von Jouanne, are testing a new wave energy technology that aims to get the most energy production for the least amount of ocean real estate.

The concept could be key to reducing the impacts of the new energy source on the marine environment and on fisheries.

So far, one tidal project has been proposed on the North Coast for sites on the Columbia River; it's different from the wave energy proposals farther south because it aims to tap power from the river current.

Ocean Tidal Energy Co. of Washington, D.C., has a preliminary permit from the FERC to study seven areas from the mouth of the Columbia River to 15 miles upstream. Four of the project's study areas are in Clatsop County; three are in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

Dale Beasley of Ilwaco, Wash., who heads the Columbia River Crab Fisherman's Association, said his group is juggling a lot of new developments &

including proposed wave energy projects in Washington and Oregon, the federal push for open-ocean aquaculture, and the impact of liquefied natural gas development. He's afraid nobody's looking at what all these projects, taken together, would do to fishing fleets.

"I don't think the fleet locally has taken a good enough view of what's coming," said Beasley. "It's not just wave energy; it's not just open ocean fish farming; it's not just LNG. ... It's not one individual thing, it's the cumulative impact of all of them."

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