The United States has many identities, including that of a coastal nation. With the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (“EEZ”) in the world, the United States has jurisdiction over more human activity in the ocean than any other country. Like people in most coastal nations, Americans are drawn to the ocean. Almost forty percent of the population lives in coastal counties that constitute less than ten percent of the nation’s land mass, and 58.3 million jobs and more than $9.5 trillion of gross domestic product are attributable to ocean resources annually. These figures have increased over time.
The diverse industries supporting these ocean-centered jobs and income include transportation, shipping, tourism, recreation, energy, minerals, national defense, research and education, and fishing, all of which require access to the ocean’s seemingly endless, but finite, resources. The government is tasked with the job of ensuring that these industries coexist, which grows more difficult as demand for ocean resources increases. Today, the future of the commercial fishing industry is particularly uncertain, due in part to both increased competition with other ocean users and climate change. This makes the development of offshore wind farms—a countermeasure to the long-term threat of climate change but an aggravator of short-term demands for ocean space—a true Catch-22 for fishermen.
For coastal governments, it may be easy and even feel necessary to overlook offshore wind energy impacts on fishing. Climate change is an imminent and no longer hypothetical threat to our way of life. Having failed to meaningfully address this problem to date, we are cramming for the metaphorical exam in what has been termed the “Critical Decade” before we reach a point of no return. But the commercial fishing industry’s role in the nation’s economy, food security, and heritage suggests that it should not be overlooked, and that while addressing climate change we should avoid damaging industries like commercial fishing in the process. Congress also mandated this avoidance in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (“EPAct”).