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Posts Tagged ‘Fishermen’

Dan Bacher, July 24, 2010

In a historic protest on July 21, members of dozens of California Indian Tribes and their allies marched through the streets of downtown Fort Bragg protesting the violation of indigenous fishing and gathering rights under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

“This is the biggest protest on any issue held on the North Coast since the Redwood Summer of 1990,” said Dan Hamburg, former North Coast Congressman and a current Green Party candidate for Mendocino County Supervisor, as he marched beside me on the way to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in Fort Bragg.

Members of the Yurok, Tolowa, Cahto, Kashia Pomo, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, Maidu, Hopi, Navajo and other tribes and the Noyo Indian Community shouted “M.L.P.A. – Taking Tribal Rights Away” and other chants as they marched. Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists, sea urchin divers and seafood industry workers walked side by side with tribal members in a show of solidarity.

Alongside tribal flags, participants hoisted banners with slogans including “Keep Away MLPA,” “Native Conservation, Not Naive Conservation,” “No MLPA,” “ MLPA=Big Oil,” and “RLF – What Are You Funding.”

The group peacefully took control of the task force meeting in a great example of non-violent direct action. After rallying at Oak and Main Street, over 300 people walked a half-mile to the C.V. Star Community Center. Just before heading into the meeting, tribal community members standing twenty deep chanted, “No Way M.L.P.A.!” to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) members convened inside.

“Our message was clear: the state will no longer impose its will on indigenous people,” said Frankie Joe Myers, organizer for the Coastal Justice Coalition and a Yurok Tribal ceremonial leader. “This is about more than a fouled-up process that attempts to prohibit tribes from doing something they have done sustainably for thousands of years. It is about respect, acknowledgement and recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights!”

Before the group began their march, they spent an hour holding signs and chanting on the corner of Oak and Main Streets as driver after driver honked their horns in support.

“The outpouring of support from the Fort Bragg community was amazing,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “It was clear that the majority of people supported our protest. Some people were driving around several times so they could honk in support again.”

After the protesters entered the meeting, tribal elders, including Walt Lara of the Yurok Tribe, said they would continue to do what they have done for centuries – harvest seaweed, mussels and fish.

“We’ve managed the ocean in sustainable way for thousands of years,” Lara stated. “We only take what we need so that nobody should be hungry. You take our water, you take our land and now your are going to take our appetite.”

Thomas O’Rourke, the chair of the Yurok Tribal Council, said, “We as an Indian Nation have the right to manage our resources. The people who have managed for the last 200 years haven’t done so well in managing the land and our coast.”

“It is wise to listen to the people who managed these lands for thousands of years,” he continued. “We believe in protecting species. We will continue to exercise our right to harvest seaweed and fish as we always have. You have to take us to jail until you go broke and you fix this law.”

The Yurok Tribe has a representative, Megan Rocha, on the MLPA’s Regional Stakeholder group. However, O’Rourke said the MLPA process has viewed tribes exactly the same as recreational fishermen, even though tribes are sovereign nations.

“There is nothing more offensive than the lack of recognition we have received from the Initiative,” he stated. “We are a sovereign government within the State of California and should be treated accordingly. We would like the Blue Ribbon Task Force to do what is morally right and remove tribes from this inappropriate process.”

Jimbo Simmons, a Choctaw Tribe member and a leader of the American Indian Movement, emphasized that numerous laws, including the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, affirm the right of indigenous people to conduct their traditional religious ceremonies including traditional ocean food gathering. “Food is a human right,” he stated.

“Our tribal rights are not negotiable,” Dania Colegrove, Hoopa Valley Tribe member and a member of the Coastal Justice Coalition, told the task force. “Get used to it!”

Some Tribal members and fishermen at the protest questioned the task force’s real motives in kicking indigenous people and other fishermen off the ocean.

Susan Burdick, Yurok Elder, pointedly told the Blue Ribbon Task Force that “You are like the Ku Klux Klan – without the hoods! We’re not going to stop what we have doing for generations. We have young people here, old people here and we will march everywhere you go.”

“What is your real purpose: to start drilling for oil off our coastline?” she asked. “Be honest with us!”

Burdick’s concerns over the push by the oil industry and others to industrialize the California coast were echoed by environmentalists including Judith Vidaver, Chair of Ocean Protection Coalition (OPC).

“For over 25 years OPC, with our fisher and seaweed harvester allies, has protected our ocean from threats such as aquaculture projects, nuclear waste dumping, offshore oil development and recently, wave power plants,” Vidaver stated. “We are requesting that final Marine Protected Area (MPA) designations include language prohibiting these industrial-scale commercial activities.”

She also shocked the panel by asking that task force member Catherine Reheis-Boyd voluntarily step down from her position on the BRTF.

“Oil and water do not mix—as we are being reminded daily by the disaster spewing in the Gulf,” she stated. “Mrs. Reheis-Boyd’s position as President of the Western States Petroleum Association and her lobbying efforts to expand offshore oil drilling off the coast of California are a patent conflict of interest for which she should recuse herself from the BRTF proceedings which are ostensibly meant to protect the marine ecosystem.”

Meg Caldwell, a BRTF member, responded to Vidaver’s request in defense of Reheis-Boyd.

“I am a died-in-the-wool environmentalist and I have worked for the past year with Reheis-Boyd. Not once has she demonstrated any bias for any industrial sector on the Task Force,” she stated.

The overwhelming majority of people making public comments criticized the MLPA process for any array of reasons.

However, Karen Garrison, policy analyst for NRDC, affirmed her support for the MLPA Initative. She said that her organization “is committed to creating an effective marine protected area network that also supports continued noncommercial traditional Tribal uses.”

“The Kashia Pomo regulation shows it’s possible to do both, at least under some circumstances, and shows the flexibility of the MLPA to accommodate Tribal uses,” Garrison stated. “We also support the Tribe’s proposal to separately identify noncommercial traditional Tribal uses in any regulation that allows both Tribal and recreational uses.”

The MLPA, a landmark law signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, calls for the creation of marine reserves with varying levels of protection from one end of the state to the other.

Many fishermen, environmentalists and Tribal members have blasted Schwarzenegger’s MLPA Initiative, privately funded by the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, for taking water pollution, oil drilling and all other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table while denying Tribes their fundamental rights.

“Whether it is their intention or not, what the Marine Life Protection Act does to tribes is systematically decimate our ability to be who we are,” Myers said. “That is the definition of cultural genocide.”

“The MLPA process completely disregards tribal gathering rights and only permits discussion of commercial and recreational harvest,” Myers concluded. “The whole process is inherently flawed by institutionalized racism. It doesn’t recognize Tribes as political entities, or Tribal biologists as legitimate scientists.”

“The protest surpassed my wildest dreams,” said Mike Carpenter, a sea urchin diver and local protest organizer. “I’m glad that tribal members, fishermen, Latino sea urchin industry workers and local environmentalists all banded together to keep our communities from being robbed by outside interests and big corporate money.”

The latest action was preceded on June 29 by a protest during which a group of 40 Tribal members and their supporters interrupted the MLPA Science Advisory Team meeting in Eureka. Members of the Coastal Justice Coalition during both protests emphasized that there is no scientific data that says tribal gathering has any negative impact on the coastal ecosystem and the Act does nothing to stop pollution and off-shore drilling — the real threats to the ocean ecosystem.

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AMBROSIA SARABIA with edits, theLog.com, June 10, 2010

In May 2010, a reporter that was attempting to videotape proceedings was forcibly removed from a Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group work session. MLPA staff then reversed their ban on videotaping and audio recording at future sessions. However, the move has not eased tensions between those tied to the planning process for new Marine Protected Areas off the California coast (where fishing will be off limits) and sport anglers who advocate retaining open fishing areas.

On May 28, United Anglers of Southern California (UASC) and the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, who have opposed the direction MLPA’s appointed Blue Ribbon Task Force appears to be heading, filed a suit against the task force and the MLPA Science Advisory Team, claiming they have violated the California Records Act.

“It has become more and more evident that the MLPA process is being steered off course by special interests — and political motivations — with dangerous potential for restricting many popular areas enjoyed by fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts,” said UASC president Steven Fukuto, in a prepared statement.

The law firm of Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble, Mallory & Natis LLP, acting on behalf of the UASC and petitioner Robert Fletcher, filed suit at the Sacramento County Courthouse as the first step of a multistage litigation process, according to Fukuto. The filing is the first step in what he expects to be an ongoing, thorough examination of the “flawed process.”

“Our legal team has identified several potential causes for action, and we will aggressively pursue any and all legal avenues to protect recreational access for fishermen, and all Californians,” Fukuto added.

According to the UASC, the suit is tied to the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s and Science Advisory Team’s failure to respond to requests made by Fletcher for documents and records relevant to the MLPA implementation process. The verified petition for writ of mandate and complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

Under the California Public Records Act, the public has the right of access to information that is in the possession of state and local agencies. By law, public records are open to inspection at all times during office hours of state or local agencies, except for those that are exempt from disclosure by express provisions of the law.

Transparent Process?

California’s Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act of 1967 requires that “meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny” and requires open meetings for all California state agencies, boards and commissions. Its purpose is to mandate accountability and transparency of government activities and to protect the rights of citizens to participate in state government.

However, MLPA’s staff has long stated that its work sessions do not qualify as “public meetings,” as the MLPA initiative process is privately funded through a unique public-private partnership.

When a Fort Bragg journalist was forcibly removed from a North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group work session after refusing to stop videotaping, claiming California’s open meetings laws gave him the right to cover the event, there was public uproar — and a protest from United Anglers of Southern California.

According to MLPA staff, members of the media and the public were permitted to attend work sessions but were not permitted to make comments, take photos or make recordings of any kind. The rule was put into place to create a “safe space” for individuals to speak openly and toss out ideas, according to staff.

In May, the rule was revisited and redefined to allow videotaping and audio recording by the public and members of the media, after MLPA staff members determine that the ban “was not reflective of the process.”

“We always err on the side of being open and transparent,” said Ken Wiseman, executive director of the MLPA Initiative. He said the sessions do not fall under Bagley-Keene, since there is not a quorum. “It is important that people not be given this idea that we are somehow restricting access, or that it is not open and transparent.”

The change in policy has not changed UASC’s mind about the openness of the process. The organization has cited various instances where decisions were made during Science Advisory Team meetings.

One occurred in 2009 when “persistent kelp” was mentioned — a subject that UASC said no one but perhaps team members understood. The classification of “persistent kelp” reduced the amount of kelp used in scientific guidelines that the Science Advisory Team uses to evaluate habitat replication. At the time, stakeholder groups were not provided enough time to fully understand what it meant or how it applied, according to UASC.

“The Blue Ribbon Task Force said they would operate the process in the spirit of Bagley-Keene, and we feel they have not lived up to that spirit,” Fukuto said. “We feel that decisions have been made in private.”

Others argue that the process is anything but open. Months of planning and revising Option 2, an alternative for the South Coast Region that would implement the fewest fishing closures, were wasted, many participants in the process said, when the Blue Ribbon Task Force threw out the options recommended by stakeholders and instead developed its own preferred plan — the IPA. If approved, the plan will close approximately 400 square miles of ocean off the Southern California coast to fishing.

However, Wiseman argues that anglers’ time was not wasted and their input was not thrown out. The resulting plan created by the Blue Ribbon Task Force was a blend of all three stakeholder proposals, Wiseman said.

“For sportfishing associations to say their ideas were ignored is ludicrous,” he said. “Their ideas are incorporated into the preferred alternative that is in front of the commission.”

He added, “They did not get everything they wanted, but nobody did.”

Greg Schem, who served as a member of the South Coast Region Blue Ribbon Task Force and currently sits on the Blue Ribbon Task Force for the North Coast Region, said the process invites everyone to the table. Every proposal made by varied interested groups, information provided by the Science Advisory Team and the Blue Ribbon Task Force is open to public comment.

Schem said he is an angler who joined the process two years ago, so he understands where other anglers are coming from — but he said he also understands that fishing closures are necessary as marine resources continue to degrade.

“I don’t like closures either, but I recognize this is a necessity,” said Schem, president and chief executive officer of Harbor Real Estate Group, a firm specializing in marina and waterfront real estate investments — including a marina, fuel dock and boat- yard in Marina del Rey.

“It is not a question of how do we not close anything, but a question of how do we close areas while still preserving adequate areas for consumptive users, and provide protected areas that will allow this network of MLPAs to operate as scientists anticipated,” Schem said.

Closing specific fishing areas was especially difficult since everyone has a favorite spot, Schem said. These emotional ties made it difficult for many to compromise on closures, he added.

“Not everybody is going to be happy,” Schem said. “Everybody is going to give a little bit, and that’s how you come up with a compromise.”

The Fish and Game Commission will vote on the plan for Southern California’s MLPA closure areas this summer and plans to finalize and implement new Marine Protected Areas by the end of the year. The study region includes the area extending from Point Conception to the California/Mexico border.

The North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group is in the early stages of drafting alternatives for establishing Marine Protected Areas in Northern California. The group will work with the Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Science Advisory Team and staff to evaluate existing Marine Protected Areas within the North Coast study region. The study region extends from the California/Oregon border to Alder Creek in Mendocino County.

The planning process is expected to be completed in December 2010.

For more information on MLPAs, visit dfg.ca.gov.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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MATTHEW PREUSCH, Oregonian.com, August 1, 2009

oregon_fishNewport, Oregon – The fleet that fishes for black cod, perch and other groundfish off the Oregon coast is a shadow of what it once was. And so are the fish stocks that it harvests and hauls into processors like those anchoring the historic waterfront here in Newport.

But new rules are likely to change that. Each fisherman would be given a quota for his or her catch, and no time limit in which to fulfill it.

If it sounds unremarkable, quotas could transform current practice by eliminating fierce competition and the “derby-on-the-sea” phenomenon that has, in the eys of some scientists, helped decimate several fish stocks.

Here in Oregon, it will be the first time the system – called catch shares or individual transferable quotas – has been tried on the West Coast outside of Alaska. And it could provide long-term viability that a $25 million groundfish industry that under a decade ago was declared a federal disaster.

The rules, devised by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, are supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will wait until next summer to officially adopt them for implementation in 2011.

But the shift in thinking has occurred already.

Studies published last year and as recently as last week in the journal, Science, report bolstered stocks in some fisheries that have taken conservation steps, one of them implementation of individual quotas.

And several voices in Oregon’s fishing community – both for and against – are heard assessing consequence.

“Every pound is going to be accounted for. So if you catch a pound of fish and it’s going to go against your quota, you’re not going to waste that fish,” said Brad Pettinger, director of the Brookings-based Oregon Trawl Commission. “It’s going to make everyone accountable about how they fish.”

“There are a lot of fishermen who don’t want anything to do with this, because life is good for them the way things are,” said Dave Jincks, , an ocean trawler owner and Port of Newport Commissioner who supports catch shares.

Shares will be allocated based primarily on a boat’s performance in the fishery between 1994 and 2003. So if your boat caught a lot of fish relative to others, your allotted share of the catch will be higher.

This could hurt newer boats in the fishery that don’t have a long history of catching lots of fish, but have nonetheless been fishing well in recent years.

While life is good for some fishermen, it’s a mess overall for the ocean trawling industry off Oregon’s coast.

Like scores of ocean fisheries around the world, the groundfish fishery has suffered under the unsustainable equation of too many boats chasing too few fish.

That led to some fish species getting nearly wiped out, prompting sharp and shifting government restrictions on fishing that are onerous to boat owners and fishing businesses seeking some predictability.

The groundfish fishery encompasses over 80 species and is divided into two sectors – non-whiting and whiting – and can include offshore trawlers that land their catch in port, deep ocean catcher-processor boats and mother ship vessels that collect the catch from smaller boats.

The new rules will mean different things for each sector of the fishery, but the basic premise of catch shares is simple enough.

Whereas under old rules each boat in the fleet fought for the biggest piece possible of a total allowable catch for each species, leading to a rush to catch as many fish as possible before the seasonal cap was reached, under catch shares each boat is granted their own share of the total catch.

It amounts to the privatization of a previously public resource.

Catch shares gained greater favor last year after a paper published in Science reported that their implementation “halts, and even reverses, the global trend towards widespread collapse” of ocean fish stocks.

And this year NOAA, led by former Oregon State University professor and oceans expert Jane Lubchenco, convened a task force to make recommendations for applying catch shares to more of the nation’s fisheries.

“It seems like it’s a nexus between conservation and economics,” said Steve Murawski, chief science advisor for NOAA Fisheries.The agency’s report is due out by today.

Despite the current popularity of catch shares, some groups are urging NOAA to proceed with caution in its embrace of the management tool.

For one thing, divvying up the total allowable catch can’t restore fisheries if the total allowable catch is more than the fish stocks can bear.

“Until we have a true commitment to set fishing levels that are sustainable, how you allocate it isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Rebecca M. Bratspies, a fisheries expert at New York’s CUNY School of Law.

And since the individual quotas, or shares, are transferable, companies can buy them up, leading to consolidation in an industry that still allows an individual boat owner to make a living.

For that reason the groundfish catch share program sets limits, generally 3-15% percent, on how much of the total catch any one owner has right to.

They’ll be monitors on each boat to see that its owner doesn’t exceed their quota. If someone goes over their cap, they will have to buy extra quota from another boat. And if they don’t expect to fish to their full quota, they can sell or lease their excess on the open market.

The cost of monitors and other parts of the program once it’s implemented in 2011 is expected to cost between $2.4 and $2.9 million a year, and the fishing boats in the program will bear the brunt of the cost.

And some boat’s quotas may be so small that they choose to simply lease their quota to another boat, leading to a phenomenon called “armchair fisherman,” which the group Ecotrust Canada says have become commonplace in catch share fisheries in British Columbia.

“I’m concerned we will see in the play out of the groundfish fisheries some of the same problems we saw in British Columbia,” said Ed Backus, vice president for fisheries for Ecotrust’s Portland office.

NOAA recently released preliminary figures for what percent of the catch each boat in the program could get. Jim Seavers, who has been fishing out of Newport for three decades, keeps the rows of figures in a small binder, and he’s circled in bright highlighter the percentages and pounds allotted to the three trawlers he owns or manages.

One, the Miss Sue, is set to get about .5% of the traditional groundfish catch, or 313 metric tons, and about 2.7% of the whiting catch, equal to 1,147 tons. This week the Miss Sue loaded up with fuel, ice and provisions before heading out again to fish.

Seavers is hopeful the catch shares program will eliminate waste in the fishery and bring some predictability to the regulations that manage it. But he worries about the extra cost each boat will have to bear to pay for the program.

Seavers had experience in a catch share fishery in Alaska, which he said has overall had positive effects. But he warns the groundfish fleet could face further reductions – it’s down to fewer than 170 boats from close to 500 in the 1990’s – even as it reduces waste.

He’s confident of one thing, though: “It’s going to make it more expensive to fish.”

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoThree miles off the craggy, wave-crashing coastline near Humboldt Bay, California, deep ocean swells roll through a swath of ocean that is soon to be the site of the nation’s first major wave energy project.

Like other renewable energy technology, ocean energy generated by waves, tidal currents or steady offshore winds has been considered full of promise yet perennially years from reaching full-blown commercial development.

That’s still true – commercial-scale deployment is at least five years away. Yet there are fresh signs that ocean power is surging. And if all goes well, WaveConnect, the wave energy pilot project at Humboldt that’s being developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), could by next year deploy five commercial-scale wave systems, each putting 1 megawatt of ocean-generated power onto the electric grid.

At less than 1% of the capacity of a big coal-fired power plant, that might seem a pittance. Yet studies show that wave energy could one day produce enough power to supply 17% of California’s electric needs – and make a sizable dent in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nationwide, ocean power’s potential is far larger. Waves alone could produce 10,000 megawatts of power, about 6.5% of US electricity demand – or as much as produced by conventional hydropower dam generators, estimated the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research arm of the public utility industry based in Palo Alto, California, in 2007. All together, offshore wind, tidal power, and waves could meet 10% of US electricity needs.

That potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Obama administration. After years of jurisdictional bickering, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Department of Interior — MMS last month moved to clarify permitting requirements that have long slowed ocean energy development.

While the Bush administration requested zero for its Department of Energy ocean power R&D budget a few years ago, the agency has reversed course and now plans to quadruple funding to $40 million in the next fiscal year.

If the WaveConnect pilot project succeeds, experts say that the Humboldt site, along with another off Mendocino County to the south, could expand to 80 megawatts. Success there could fling open the door to commercial-scale projects not only along California’s surf-pounding coast but prompt a bicoastal US wave power development surge.

“Even without much support, ocean power has proliferated in the last two to three years, with many more companies trying new and different technology,” says George Hagerman, an ocean energy researcher at the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va.

Wave and tidal current energy are today at about the same stage as land-based wind power was in the early 1980s, he says, but with “a lot more development just waiting to see that first commercial success.”

More than 50 companies worldwide and 17 US-based companies are now developing ocean power prototypes, an EPRI survey shows. As of last fall, FERC tallied 34 tidal power and nine wave power permits with another 20 tidal current, four wave energy, and three ocean current applications pending.

Some of those permits are held by Christopher Sauer’s company, Ocean Renewable Power of Portland, Maine, which expects to deploy an underwater tidal current generator in a channel near Eastport, Maine, later this year.

After testing a prototype since December 2007, Mr. Sauer is now ready to deploy a far more powerful series of turbines using “foils” – not unlike an airplane propeller – to efficiently convert water current that’s around six knots into as much as 100,000 watts of power. To do that requires a series of “stacked” turbines totaling 52 feet wide by 14 feet high.

“This is definitely not a tinkertoy,” Sauer says.

Tidal energy, as demonstrated by Verdant Power’s efforts in New York City’s East River, could one day provide the US with 3,000 megawatts of power, EPRI says. Yet a limited number of appropriate sites with fast current means that wave and offshore wind energy have the largest potential.

“Wave energy technology is still very much in emerging pre-commercial stage,” says Roger Bedard, ocean technology leader for EPRI. “But what we’re seeing with the PG&E WaveConnect is an important project that could have a significant impact.”

Funding is a problem. As with most renewable power, financing for ocean power has been becalmed by the nation’s financial crisis. Some 17 Wall Street finance companies that had funded renewables, including ocean power, are now down to about seven, says John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Even so, entrepreneurs like Sauer aren’t close to giving up – and even believe that the funding tide may have turned. Private equity and the state of Maine provided funding at a critical time, he says.

“It’s really been a struggle, particularly since mid-September when Bear Sterns went down,” Sauers says. “We worked without pay for a while, but we made it through.”

Venture capitalists are not involved in ocean energy right now, he admits. Yet he does get his phone calls returned. “They’re not writing checks yet, but they’re talking more,” he says.

When they do start writing checks, it may be to propel devices such as the Pelamis and the PowerBuoy. Makers of those devices, and more than a dozen wave energy companies worldwide, will soon vie to be among five businesses selected to send their machines to the ocean off Humboldt.

One of the major challenges they will face is “survivability” in the face of towering winter waves. By that measure, one of the more successful generators – success defined by time at sea without breaking or sinking – is the Pelamis, a series of red metal cylinders connected by hinges and hydraulic pistons.

Looking a bit like a red bullet train, several of the units were until recently floating on the undulating sea surface off the coast of Portugal. The Pelamis coverts waves to electric power as hydraulic cylinders connecting its floating cylinders expand and contract thereby squeezing fluid through a power unit that extracts energy.

An evaluation of a Pelamis unit installed off the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago found that for $273 million, a wave farm with 206 of the devices could produce energy at a cost of about 13.4 cents a kilowatt hours. Such costs would drop sharply and be competitive with onshore wind energy if the industry settled on a technology and mass-produced it.

“Even with worst-case assumptions, the economics of wave energy compares favorably to wind energy,” the 2004 study conducted for EPRI found.

One US-based contestant for a WaveConnect slot is likely to be the PowerBuoy, a 135-five-foot-long steel cylinder made by Ocean Power Technology (OPT) of Pennington, N.J. Inside the cylinder that is suspended by a float, a pistonlike structure moves up and down with the bobbing of the waves. That drives a generator, sending up to 150 kilowatts of power to a cable on the ocean bottom. A dozen or more buoys tethered to the ocean floor make a power plant.

“Survivability” is a critical concern for all ocean power systems. Constant battering by waves has sunk more than one wave generator. But one of PowerBuoy’s main claims is that its 56-foot-long prototype unit operated continuously for two years before being pulled for inspection.

“The ability to ride out passing huge waves is a very important part of our system,” says Charles Dunleavy, OPT’s chief financial officer. “Right now, the industry is basically just trying to assimilate and deal with many different technologies as well as the cost of putting structures out there in the ocean.”

Beside survivability and economics, though, the critical question of impact on the environment remains.

“We think they’re benign,” EPRI’s Mr. Bedard says. “But we’ve never put large arrays of energy devices in the ocean before. If you make these things big enough, they would have a negative impact.”

Mr. Dunleavy is optimistic that OPT’s technology is “not efficient enough to rob coastlines and their ecosystems of needed waves. A formal evaluation found the company’s PowerBuoy installed near a Navy base in Hawaii as having “no significant impact,” he says.

Gauging the environmental impacts of various systems will be studied closely in the WaveConnect program, along with observations gathered from fishermen, surfers, and coastal-impact groups, says David Eisenhauer, a PG&E spokesman, says.

“There’s definitely good potential for this project,” says Mr. Eisenhauer. “It’s our responsibility to explore any renewable energy we can bring to our customers – but only if it can be done in an economically and environmentally feasible way.”

Offshore wind is getting a boost, too. On April 22, the Obama administration laid out new rules on offshore leases, royalty payments, and easement that are designed to pave the way for investors.

Offshore wind energy is a commercially ready technology, with 10,000 megawatts of wind energy already deployed off European shores. Studies have shown that the US has about 500,000 megawatts of potential offshore energy. Across 10 to 11 East Coast states, offshore wind could supply as much as 20% of the states’ electricity demand without the need for long transmission lines, Hagerman notes.

But development has lagged, thanks to political opposition and regulatory hurdles. So the US remains about five years behind Europe on wave and tidal and farther than that on offshore wind, Bedard says. “They have 10,000 megawatts of offshore wind and we have zero.”

While more costly than land-based wind power, new offshore wind projects have been shown in some studies to have a lower cost of energy than coal projects of the same size and closer to the cost of energy of a new natural-gas fired power plant, Hagerman says.

Offshore wind is the only ocean energy technology ready to be deployed in gigawatt quantities in the next decade, Bedard says. Beyond that, wave and tidal will play important roles.

For offshore wind developers, that means federal efforts to clarify the rules on developing ocean wind energy can’t come soon enough. Burt Hamner plans a hybrid approach to ocean energy – using platforms that produce 10% wave energy and 90% wind energy.

But Mr. Hamner’s dual-power system has run into a bureaucratic tangle – with the Minerals Management Service and FERC both wanting his company to meet widely divergent permit requirements, he says.

“What the public has to understand is that we are faced with a flat-out energy crisis,” Hamner says. “We have to change the regulatory system to develop a structure that’s realistic for what we’re doing.”

To be feasible, costs for offshore wind systems must come down. But even so, a big offshore wind farm with hundreds of turbines might cost $4 billion – while a larger coal-fired power plant is just as much and a nuclear power even more, he contends.

“There is no cheap solution,” Hamner says. “But if we’re successful, the prize could be a big one.”

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SUSAN CHAMBERS, The World, February 3, 2009

Coos Bay — The announcement came as a surprise to everyone.

beachpThe Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Thursday order issuing a preliminary permit for a 200- to 400-buoy wave energy project off of Newport shocked Ocean Power Technologies leaders as well as the public.

“It’s a project, a site that is not on our priority list right now,” OPT spokesman Len Bergstein said. “It was a little bit of a surprise to us in terms of timing.”

What’s different about this project is that FERC’s approval stirs up a hornet’s nest at the time OPT is trying to work with residents on the South Coast for community approval of two sites: a 10-buoy project off of Gardiner and a 200-buoy project off of the North Spit.

It also calls into question FERC’s intentions of adhering to a memorandum of understanding previously negotiated with Oregon to give the state greater siting power over wave energy projects in the territorial sea.

The approval also seems to be designed for FERC to flex authority over territory traditionally overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. Both agencies have claimed the area outside of Oregon’s territorial sea, beyond three nautical miles.

Mixed Messages

As the FERC notice of approval hit residents’ e-mail inboxes late Thursday, outrage began to build.

“My concern is this sends the wrong message,” said Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett. “This is high-value crab grounds, about as valuable as you get.”

OPT applied for the permit in November 2006, but let the application slide. The jurisdictional battle meant the application was going nowhere fast. OPT decided to concentrate its work on the Gardiner and Coos Bay sites, both of which are inside the territorial sea.

Bergstein said as soon as he found out about the approval, he immediately called Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Thompson and other Lincoln County folks, particularly those involved with the Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy group.

“Clearly, we have not been prompting FERC,” Bergstein said.

Bovett, who was involved in the commenting on the original OPT application, said Fishermen Involved has been working with wave energy companies to determine the best sites for development that would have the least impact on the fishing industry and local communities. This, though, was different.

“FINE wasn’t involved in the selection of this box,” Bovett said.

State vs. FERC?

Bovett’s first question was: Does the memorandum of understanding not mean anything?

In March 2008, FERC and Oregon signed a memorandum designed to “coordinate the procedures and schedules for review of wave energy projects.”

Bovett just chuckled.  According to the deal, he said, FERC wasn’t going to issue permits willy nilly. 

Some of the discrepancy over the decision to issue a preliminary permit — which allows OPT to only study the area for feasibility — may be because Oregon hasn’t finished updating its territorial sea plan. The Ocean Policy Advisory Council and the state have been working on it, but the marine reserves issue has dominated the council’s time over the past year.

“This will obviously get everybody’s attention,” Southern Oregon Ocean Resource Coalition Chairman Nick Furman said of FERC’s decision.

That’s putting it lightly.

Whereas the Reedsport and Coos Bay sites are considered by some to be ground zero as far as local communities negotiating with wave energy developers, the Newport site could be ground zero for state vs. federal and agency vs. agency jurisdiction and siting battles.

However, Bovett said, OPT holds the key right now.

The New Jersey-based wave energy developer should withdraw from  the site, he said. Otherwise, years of litigation seem likely — and courts ultimately would have the final say over which agency should be in charge of alternative energy.

“OPT can fix this,” Bovett said. “It’s exactly what they should do.”

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Editors Note:  On May 11, 2009, PG&E pulled-out of Mendocino WaveConnect, read it here: http://tinyurl.com/qwlbg6 . The remains of the $6M are now solely allocated to Humboldt WaveConnect.

MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPG&E caught a major renewable energy wave today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding their centerpiece wave energy project, WaveConnect. The program also received an additional $1.2 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy. PG&E’s WaveConnect, a project already two years in the making, launches with a $6M kitty.

WaveConnect is chartered with exploring wave energy development off the coasts of Mendocino and Humboldt counties in Northern California. The stakeholders in this region are dyed-in-the-wool political activists, living in environmentally-centric coastal communities and have reacted protectively, sounding alarms that PG&E and the Federal government’s wave energy plans may foul, diminish and destroy the Pacific Ocean and marine life.

Over the two years that PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) advanced WaveConnect, only recently have environmental concerns and study become part of the discussion. The opportunity for Mendocino and Humboldt coastal communities and local governments to embrace wave energy development and connect with WaveConnect has not gone well, especially as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has disallowed the City of Fort Bragg and local fishermen to be party in the WaveConnect FERC Preliminary Permitting.

Jonathan Marshall, publisher of Next100, a PG&E blog, wrote “PG&E’s first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.”

“The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind,” says William Toman, WaveConnect project manager at PG&E. “It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability.” The CPUC and the DOE are betting on this evolution as in this funding scenario engineered by PG&E, the CPUC awards $4.8M in ratepayer funds while the DOE $1.2M is a matching grant.

Wave energy may become a key source of renewable energy in California. It’s proposed that the 745-mile coastline could produce 1/5th of California’s energy needs if, admittedly a big if, economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues — and community issues — don’t stand in the way.

Marshall wrote in closing “Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.”

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