In a reversal this week, Vineyard fishermen dropped their lawsuit over the Cape Wind project, with Cape Wind in turn agreeing to support access and a new permit program for fishermen who make a living in the waters around Horseshoe Shoal.

At a conference call with members of the Island and regional media Tuesday, Cape Wind communications director Mark Rodgers and Warren Doty, president of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, announced that the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court two years ago, would be dropped.

Mr. Doty said the fishermen’s association would instead work with Cape Wind to “establish safe, continued fishing access to offshore areas.” He said initial concerns that an exclusionary zone would be created around the turbines had been assuaged, with Cape Wind agreeing not to limit fishing access for the fishermen who harvest conch, scup and sea bass in the area.

“I think that fishermen really want to know that that’s not going to happen,” Mr. Doty said.

Mark Rodgers
Mark Rodgers. — Mark Alan Lovewell

In 2010, the fishermen’s association sued the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in federal court, claiming that the Cape Wind Associates wind farm would put fishermen out of work.

About 100 commercial fishermen, represented by the fishermen’s association, and Chilmark fisherman Jonathan Mayhew were the plaintiffs in the case. They said the lease to build 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound threatened the livelihoods of Island fishermen, including conchers and squidders who work the shoal.

But on Tuesday, the two parties “agreed to enter into joint efforts designed to support the Cape Wind project, as well as vibrant and sustainable local commercial fishing communities on Martha’s Vineyard,” according to the dismissal filed in United States District Court in Washington D.C.

During a meeting at the Gazette following the telephone conference, Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Doty said the agreement represented a commitment to work together on fishing access and sustainability.

“Other people have many different kinds of issues with wind farm development, but ours is exclusively just fishing access and fishing rights in the area,” Mr. Doty said. “It seems like we could resolve those issues and not just continue being in court forever.”

The settlement guarantees that there is no exclusionary zone, he said. “Part of this settlement agreement says that we will work together to keep Horseshoe Shoal open to appropriate fishing activities and establish safe fishing claims, and that’s a big deal to us,” Mr. Doty said.

To that end, he and Mr. Rodgers said Cape Wind has agreed to support the newly-formed Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, which will buy fishing permits and lease them at affordable rates to Island fishermen.

The permit bank will be operated through the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard. The amount of any monetary contributions from Cape Wind toward the permit bank was not disclosed, with Mr. Doty and Mr. Rodgers citing a confidentiality agreement.

There was not yet money in the bank when the fishermen’s association announced its creation last week. The bank will help new and experienced fishermen alike secure permits for coastal access, sea scallop, or other federal groundfishing permits. The permits are limited in number and can be expensive, running up to six figures.

Mr. Doty said he wasn’t sure what amount the permit bank would aim to accumulate, but he cited some examples. The Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, established by the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, has about $3 million in their permit bank, Mr. Doty said, while the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund has $12 million. “We know we’re not in that category,” he said.

When it comes to the details of the settlement, Mr. Doty said the board of directors of the fishermen’s association, of which Mr. Mayhew is a member, voted to settle the lawsuit. The seven-member board voted 6-0 to settle, with one member absent.

He added that the fishermen discussed the settlement with the Dukes County Commission in an executive session, and the commission voted to support the action.

Several other plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit are still involved, including the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the town of Barnstable, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

The fishermen’s association had their claim dismissed with prejudice, with each party bearing its own fees and costs. Mr. Doty said the association’s legal fees were about $100,000, but about 75 per cent of the work was done pro bono.

“I think it’s constructive,” David E. Frulla, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represented the fishermen’s association, said of the agreement. “I think that it gives the fishermen the opportunity for themselves on the Island to use the permit bank to revitalize fishing, not only on Horseshoe Shoal, but generally.”

Mr. Frulla said the fishermen will work with Cape Wind to figure out best practices for fishing, and he said the goal was for Cape Wind and the association to reach out to other groups to raise money for the permit fund.

Collaboration was the key word from both parties. “It’s just very different when two organizations are more at loggerheads and talking at each other,” Mr. Rodgers said. “It’s just a different perspective when you’re sitting around the table together and you’re trying to work constructively on finding common ground, and practical solutions where everybody is trying to be reasonable. . . we certainly want to do our part to facilitate that with people who live and work in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod and Nantucket, and use the Nantucket Sound.”

Mr. Rodgers said Cape Wind is through with state permitting and is almost through federal permitting as well, receiving a commercial lease and a favorable decision record from the government. The next stage will be raising the capital to build the project, he said.

The process has generated more than 100,000 pages of documents and been the focus of more than 50 public hearings over the last 10 years, Mr. Rodgers said, saying the review has been more robust and comprehensive than what New England nuclear, coal and natural gas power plants have gone through.

When it comes to the fishing industry, he said, the two groups will work together on plans for fishing access and to help sustainable fishing.

Mr. Doty said some things have yet to be worked out, like concerns about cables for mobile gear fishermen who troll for squid, scup and fluke in the area. Cape Wind has agreed to bury cables six to eight feet below the ocean bed, he said, which will address some concerns about gear getting snagged on the cables, but “ I think we need to talk much more about that, what mobile gear fishing will work inside this field.”

But we can sit down and work together on that, rather than be at odds with one another.”