It’s a busy day at Dockside Packing in Atlantic City. Men banging mallets against steel repair the Mary Vee. The captain of a ship uses a crane to unload cages of Atlantic clams, each cage containing 2,000 pounds of them, dredged from the ocean floor to off the coast.
Clams like Charlie Quintana are back from two days at sea on the Christy. âOh, it’s just a nice peace of mind,â says Quintana. “I love the fishing, the season, the dredging, the clam research.”
Quintana is worried about climate change: he says he has noticed a change in fishing because of the warming of the oceans. But he’s also worried that the hundreds of thousands of acres of planned East Coast wind farms will limit where he can catch clams – backbreaking work, but one that he says earns him $ 120,000 to $ 150,000 a year. .
âIt’s going to ruin the bottom,â he said.
Captain Tom Dameron has spent decades harvesting the clams that end up in cans of clam chowder on grocery store shelves or served in restaurants. Today, he is the government relations and fisheries science liaison officer for Surfside Foods, which employs around 100 people, including Quintana.
Standing on the dock near the ship, Dameron explains how seawater is pumped from the ocean floor to stir up clam beds and a giant rake, or dredge, picks up the larger clams.
âYou have a knife blade similar to a plow blade that actually digs into the bottom,â he says. “And this is the part if there were electric cables there, we would be afraid that this part would come in contact with the electric cables.”
Those power cables he worries about would act like a giant extension cord, carrying up to 275,000 volts of wind power ashore for distribution to homes in New Jersey and beyond. The huge wind farms that are planned off the Jersey coast are not compatible with fishing, says Dameron.
As part of the Biden administration’s commitment to tackle climate change, it wants to develop 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to light 10 million homes. Only two small wind farms now exist in the United States: the five-turbine farm off Block Island, Rhode Island, operated by a unit of Danish energy company Orsted, and a small pilot project in Virginia operated by Dominion Energy. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, has already allocated 17 rental zones between Massachusetts and North Carolina, and this year it added eight more between Long Island and Cape May.
New Jersey has been given the largest rental acreage to date: hundreds of wind turbines will rise to over 80 stories, like a steel forest reinforced by a bed of rocks on the sea floor and spanning hundreds of thousands of acres 10 to 15 miles from the shore.
Dameron says the clams will compete for a smaller patch of ocean.
“This is going to lead to localized overfishing,” he said, “which will lead to the boats targeting smaller and smaller clams, which could lead to the collapse of that fishery in Atlantic City.”
New Jersey has claimed the nation’s leadership in this fight against climate change. But these planned wind farms off the New Jersey coast occupy some of the country’s most fertile fishing grounds, sparking a growing battle between fishing and wind power.
Governor Phil Murphy has committed the state to develop 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2035. This is part of the state’s overall goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. The government Federal auctions rental areas, which are in federal waters, more than three miles from the shore. States, which until recently led the surge in offshore wind, oversee power contracts.
Current plans include three rental areas in New Jersey, spanning hundreds of thousands of acres and encompassing a network of several hundred turbines to power millions of homes. But that’s just the start, with BOEM announcing this year of eight additional leases further offshore between Long Island and Cape May.
âIt’s a huge undertaking,â says Val Stori, project director with the Clean Energy States Alliance. âWe’re talking about a five to seven year timeframe for a project to be proposed, contracted, licensed, built, and then electrons flowing to shore. So these are huge investments, and they have the potential to decarbonize large sectors of the economy. And the more we try to electrify everything, the more we try to electrify heating, electrify transport, perhaps one day electrify industrial processes. To do this, we will need renewable energies. And this is where the energy [for] these electrons could come to really decarbonise the whole economy.
It also means good jobs, Stori says. âWe need lawyers. We need permit specialists. We need scientists. We have to make the turbines.
But fishermen like Dameron and Quintana say it would be dangerous to maneuver through wind farms in bad weather, and they worry about how structures will affect ocean currents, temperatures and migration patterns.
Clams were the first seafood to be federally regulated, paving the way for what has become one of the most regulated industries in the country. Where, when, how and how much is harvested are strictly monitored and enforced. Dameron says about 20% of the average annual catch comes from areas now designated as wind farms by the federal government. Over a 12-year period, he says, that represented more than $ 39 million in revenue just for clams.
“We are literally fighting to keep the existence of the clam industry in the port of Atlantic City.”