The Fish Story: Wind Turbines Now Firmly on the Horizon; Japan Soon Returning to Its Whaling Ways

Photo by Jay Mann.

Surf City — WINDPOWER COMETH: Through hell or high water, offshore wind farms are coming to the Garden State. There has been festering consternation over the prospect of towering turbines taking up precious ocean-surface space. Some fishermen fear losing fishing grounds, while coastalites dread losing unencumbered oceanic views. Chiming in are bird lovers, noisily livid over the prospect of their winged friends being butchered by turning turbine blades. Their concerns have apparently fallen short. The largest wind farm plan in the nation has found fertile ocean off New Jersey.

Last Friday, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities signed paperwork allowing the Danish energy company Ørsted, along with partner Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), to begin the final prebuilding phase of a 1,100-megawatt project known as Ocean Wind.

“Today’s historic announcement will revolutionize the offshore wind industry here in New Jersey and along the entire East Coast,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

Ocean Wind will be a complex of wind turbines, placed in federal EEZ waters about 15 miles off Atlantic City. Construction is expected to begin in the “early 2020s” and finish in 2024.

Once in full bloom, the farm should generate enough electricity to power about 500,000 homes, per the NJBPU. That’s a goodly slew of power recipients considering one of the early digs against the program was how few people it might serve, adding very little to the big-picture power grid. It now seems that the addition of a few more farms of similar size – and other N.J. wind farms are on the near horizon – will juice up the coastal power grid, moving toward our governor’s hopes of having a fully renewably-powered state by 2050.

A buzz accompanying Ocean Wind is its fiscal impacts. It could generate $1.17 billion in economic benefits, while creating 15,000 jobs in the long run. Additional farms would add similar dollaresque bennies to the state’s economy.

Will it cost end-users to receive greener power? Not so much. At most, monthly customer bills will rise by maybe $1.50. That is a pittance when considering the perpetual cost/profit hikes that regularly escalate our electric bills. Many conservationists say such price increases from the conversion to wind power are a bargain, especially when virtuously considering the complementary reduction in ruinous greenhouse gases.

As to the fears that a wind farm might mean lights out for fishermen who now frequent the Ocean Wind zone, that remains to be seen – with answers coming quickly once the turbines are in place. Conversations with folks in Great Britain indicate angling can actually light up in and around wind farms, as has happened in the North Sea, where over a dozen wind farms flourish.

My insinuating a positive angling slant will open me to verbal bombardments from fishermen. The squawking of bird people will also fly in my direction. That’s fine with me since I’ll admit there’s no way of knowing if North Sea biosystem successes will apply over here. Or if birds will, in fact, be knocked out of the sky. That can only be cleared up with the building of a wind farm. Thereafter, I won’t be afraid to admit I was wrong, right or in-between.

For naysayers feeling kinda comfortable that we’re only talking about a lone oceanic parcel of ocean top off Atlantic City, you might need to re-energize your fears. As we speak, New Jersey is targeting a much larger (3.5-gigawatt) offshore wind power presence by 2030. It will soon be presenting two “solicitations,” one next year and another in 2022. That means they’ll be accepting bids from wind power companies anxious to build additional N.J. farms. I have heard that a high-potential EEZ site is off Barnegat Inlet. I’m guessing deep-pocketed public outcry might rock the boat enough to get the BPU favoring non-LBI-related locales.

Wind Turbine 101: The endless kinetic energy from moving air, best known as wind, powers the rotating blades of wind turbines. The natural energy captured by the blade is transmitted via a shaft to a generator, which converts it to electrical energy. It is then directed by wiring to a transmission substation, where the voltage is ramped up to functional levels before going consumer bound, traveling through existing electricity grid power lines across the mainland.

As to where wind power electricity will arrive on the terra firma side of things, the Murphy administration has its eyes on the closed B.L. England generating station in Upper Township, Cape May. That former coal-powered plant could readily serve as a collection and distribution point for Ocean Wind.

WAILING OVER WHALING: Japan will soon be back to its wicked whaling ways, flying in the face of worldwide whale-loving sentiments. It’s a case of hedonistic eating habits over detente. Starting next week, Rising Sun’s commercial de-whaling fleet will take to the harpoon for the first time in 30 years.

By my thinking, Japan’s whale hunting industry is driven by absurdly self-indulgent meat hankerings. Yes, meat. Mammalian whales bear meat … not fish fillets. Eaten raw, as is part of the indulgency, it’s technically tartare, not sashimi.

I won’t get into what Asiatic meat-munchers are willing to shell out for a mere mouthful of modern blubber. The absurdly high yen count might get more worldwide commercial fishermen eyeing the marine mammals … with bad intent. Money has become the root of all anti-conservation evil.

You might have been under the impression that whaling is verboten, worldwide. It is, somewhat, via a gentlemen’s agreement through the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which backs the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in Washington, D.C. way back on Dec. 2, 1946. The initial goal of that early paperwork was far from saving Nemo. It simply sought to “provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.” It absolutely did not have whales fully at heart. It was more of a meat management thing.

However, by the 1970s, the people of the planet grew increasingly PO’ed at the IWC-allowable killing of the oceans’ leviathans. In 1972, there was a gathering of whale-appreciative nations in Stockholm. It was called the United Nations Conference on Human Environment. It also included actively whaling nations, which were there for their vested interest in the subject.

The UN conference garnered enough scientific and world emotion to adopt a 10-year moratorium on commercial whaling. However, it still didn’t have the whales’ better interests in mind. The moratorium was ostensibly presented as a mere recovery period. However, among whale-hugging nations, it was a clever way to buy desperately needed time. Those nations thereafter went forth to spread their mantra that whaling days should be brought to an everlasting end. Their appeal was partially based on a growing understanding that the brainy mammals were as much as kindred spirits to humans.

The time buying worked wonders. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1977 and 1981 reported more and more whale species approaching end-times. Concurrently, the public had turned an even angrier eye toward whaling, which had long included dolphins. World-grade groups fostering anti-whaling support included Greenpeace and the Earth Force Society (later Sea Shepherd).

As more nations began joining the wailing over whaling, the IWC reached a necessary three-quarters majority to implement a more decisive dead-stop to commercial whaling. That was 1982. The wording of the cease-and-desist was necessarily emphatic: “Catch limits for the killing for commercial purposes of whales from all stocks for the 1986 coastal and the 1985/86 pelagic seasons and thereafter shall be zero.”

Within the stoppage, there was a mild effort to placate whaling-obsessed nations. A provision promised an ongoing assessment of how the stoppage affected whale stocks. If an obvious uptick in whale populations arose – and it had to be highly uptickious – modification of the provision could lead to the closely monitored taking of certain whale species.

Japan, Norway, Peru and what was then the USSR highly objected to the 1986 moratorium, leading to some redacted allowances for them to continue commercial whaling under a “scientific” guise, replacing harpoons with nets. Overall, the stoppage worked wonders in the whales’ favor.

By July, Japan will be snubbing any affiliations with the IWC, unspokenly saying, “Damn world opinion, full whaling speed ahead.” However, even this burst of whaling bravado is far from a return to old worldwide whaling days. To somewhat steer clear of sure-to-come scathing criticism, all Japan’s whaling will be done in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending out 200 nautical miles.

So, how many whales are in those waters? Even the nation’s ministry, which is behind the resumption of whale harvesting, has no clue. One would think such info just might be useful prior to opening whaling waters. Apparently not.

Whale experts say there could be a goodly number of minke whales soon at risk, though the species is considered one of the healthier whale populations on the planet. Other EEZ whales under the harpoon gun include belugas, narwhals and pilot whales. All of these are smaller whales.

To some folks, Japan’s home-waters harpooning might have a redemptive angle. Per a story in seafoodsource.com, “While Japan’s whaling efforts were formerly focused on Antarctica and the North Pacific, it will now hunt within its own exclusive economic zone, focusing on abundant species such as minke whales. … Minke whales are under least concern.” Of course, seafoodsource.com is a fishing industry publication.

More sciency about the subject is an article in sciencemag.org, headlined “Why Japan’s exit from international whaling treaty may actually benefit whales.” It highlights Justin Cooke, a marine population assessment specialist at the Center for Ecosystem Management Studies in Emmendingen, Germany. He points to a declining appetite for whale meat in Japan, meaning the new whaling fleet won’t be taking many more whales than it is now netting, allegedly in the name of science. Cooke says, “There won’t be much change on the ground. What matters most is that Japan has decided to stop large-scale whaling on the high seas under the mantle of scientific research.”

There’s no doubt that the Japanese have historically and traditionally coveted whale meat, going back centuries. At the height of whale consuming times, it had 67 different and distinct – at least distinct to them – cuts of whale meat. Every blubberous section of the marine mammal was individually named … and sold separately. Customers likely relied heavily on the accuracy and honesty of the local butcher, who, back in the day, moonlighted as a samurai, meaning there wasn’t a ton of accusations about mislabeling. “Hey, dude, you just gave me a stinkin’ #33 … not a #14!” How can one not see a ponytailed, sword-poised John Belushi popping up from behind the counter in a samurai robe?

RUNDOWN: Starting off oddly, an email from Dan G. read, “I got a Spanish mackerel using my teaser (fly) with plug. I got it on the fly. I didn’t know the size rules, so it was released but after looking it up it was more than legal at near 20”. Anyway, I have now caught more tropical fish post Sandy than all the rest of my 50 plus years fishing here on LBI.”

Hmmm. This is where I get to casually note I once held the state record for Spanish mack. It weighed 8-6, taken in Holgate on a Hopkins in 1988.

As to this tasty little mackerel soon making LBI a regular summer stopover, I say bring it on. Might this really happen due to warming seas? Let’s get them here first, then worry about that downer technical stuff.

Elsewhere, there’s no overlooking the near-beach shark presence. One fellow messaged me that he has never seen sharking this brisk so early in summer, though he notes it only shines on certain nights. Big rays are also in the mix.

While we can’t target most sharks when surfcasting, there’s nothing illegal with just happening to hit the after-dark beach bearing ultraheavy fishing equipment entertaining 100-pound test line and wire – you know, with kingfish and fluke in mind.

Of all the forbidden sharks, sand tigers are the most visually exhilarating among the more common beach-caught shark species. The toothage of sand tigers is likely the wickedest of any fish in the world, though they’re not inclined to use their insane cutlery on humans. Can accidental sand tiger bites occur when fishing or (way less likely) wading in turbid waters? Any creature with teeth can issue a bite.

Don’t expect to readily snare a sand tiger. They’re not all that common, especially when in among frequent biters like brown sharks, aka sandbar sharks, the coast’s largest beach shark.

I’m tempted to list a couple beach sharks that can actually be kept by anglers. Problematically, ID’ing keeper species to the exclusion (and release) of other lookalike protected species is often for experts only. For example, highly plentiful brown sharks, when taken by unknowing fishing folks, are dubbed threshers, due to the brown’s relatively long tail (caudal) fins. However, the tail fins of a brown is minuscule when compared to that of a thresher shark tail, which can be longer than its body. You can keep threshers but not browns, even though we host one of the largest seasonal populations of brown sharks in the world.

Speaking of the plentiful browns, not only do they pose absolutely no threat to bathers but shark specialists consider them one of the safest sharks to swim with – though I’m not endorsing same, mind you.

How many browns are out there? I can offer reports of a dozen or more a night being caught by a single surfcaster. You just have to pick the right night. A few years back, during an early morning begoggled swim parallel to the beach (mid-Island), I spotted four cruising browns inside the sandbars. To say they were disinterested in me was an understatement. I almost took it personal-like.

Angler Note: When returning protected sharks to the water make it ASAP-plus. Unhooking a shark in the suds, instead of fully beaching it, is kindest of all. As rough and tumbly as shark appear, many can’t support their own weight when out of water. Their internal organs get crushed.

Fluking is just fine, so come on in. Be it bank, boat or even beach, the flatties are cooperating. It’s what I’d call average to slightly above. There has been a decline in smaller fish, but it’s far too early to make anything major out of that. By next month, I’m sure we’ll be neck-deep in throwbacks – I mean “gentle releases.”

Released fluke suffer severely from mishandling – unlike stripers, which are bruisers. Forget that nonsense that bass suffer a 50 percent post-release mortality. That mortality is likely well under 20 percent, possibly under 10 percent.

Speaking of stripers, the big-ass biomass, and it was quite impressive throughout spring, has drifted northward. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a goodly number still in the ’hood. Those are both resident bass and even some late-running members of the big spring biomass. A number of fine keepers have come off the beach over the past week.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

Reposted from The Sandpaper