Gov. Janet Mills has been getting so much heat from the lobster industry, you’d think she was out there in the ocean herself, cutting fishing lines to make room for wind turbines.

The ire was apparent Wednesday at a rally outside the Augusta Civic Center, where hundreds of lobstermen and their supporters, many waving “Crush Mills” signs, gathered to protest, taking a hard stance against the state’s growing offshore wind industry.

It may be an understandable reaction for an industry that — rightly so in some cases — feels besieged. But it is not helping anyone, except perhaps the governor’s political opponents.

It’s certainly not getting us any closer to answering the big questions about the future of the Gulf of Maine. So let’s turn it down a notch.

Nothing here is happening in a hurry. The turbine scheduled to go up near Monhegan Island, the subject of a showdown between lobstermen and a survey ship last month, is the result of a decade of work, much of it at the University of Maine, aimed at creating a homegrown industry.

That turbine, as well as a 12-turbine array planned by the Mills administration — the focus of this week’s protest — are both test projects to see how well the technology works and how it interacts with the ocean environment, including how it effects fishing. Results from the project will lead to adjustments t0 ultimately improve the technology and lessen its impact on other ocean uses.

There is no time to waste in perfecting this technology. As part of their climate response, states along the East Coast have committed to buying tens of thousands of megawatts of power generated by offshore wind in the coming years. The prevailing technology — turbines with fixed foundations on the ocean floor — will not be enough to meet the demand required to fight the climate crisis.

The floating turbines of the kind being designed in Maine will be necessary in places without a shallow coastal shelf. That provides the state with an opportunity to become a leader in building and maintaining floating turbines, with the potential to create hundreds of jobs now and perhaps thousands in the future.

But none of that will be possible if the turbines disrupt marine life or traditional industries on the water. It wouldn’t work in Maine, where fishermen catch half a billion dollars’ worth of lobster a year, nor would it work anywhere else with a similar dynamic.

That’s where Maine’s effort should be right now — on creating the best floating turbine technology possible, governed by standards that protect the other ways Mainers use the ocean as a resource.

The lobster industry shouldn’t be worried about a single test turbine, or about the proposed 12-turbine array, which will take up 16 square miles in the 36,000-square-mile Gulf of Maine — all in federal waters.

Instead, they should be thinking about the future they want, within the reality we all should acknowledge. They should be thinking about how climate change is changing their industry, and what responsibility they have in being part of the solution.

Fishermen should be thinking about how they can work with the wind industry and public officials to co-exist in the vast ocean, so that Maine can have its successful, sustainable lobster industry alongside a burgeoning clean energy business.

With their experience in the ocean off Maine, lobstermen should be a big part of the conversation. But they have to be prepared to say something besides, “No.”

 


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