Refreshing testimony: Addressing a CT legislative panel from the deck of a Sea Services vessel

Amid the monotony of more than 12 hours of legislative testimony, two fishermen employed by Sea Services North America made history during the Energy & Technology Committee hearing at the Connecticut Legislative Office Building earlier this year.

Jack Tibbens and Scott Yerman testified to the committee from the high seas via Zoom – sun shining, wind whipping – from the “New Horizons.”

Their impact in speaking on behalf of Bill 383, proposed by State Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton) to establish a $16 million mitigation fund responding to the effects of offshore wind on marine mammals, birds, and fishermen, was immeasurable.

“I believe you’re the first person in my memory to testify from a boat. We really appreciate you taking the time to testify,” said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee.

“Having the perspective of somebody who’s actually doing the job is really important for us to hear,” Steinberg said. “We wish you success and smooth sailing. We appreciate the extra effort you put in to be able to testify. It really makes a difference to us. And we hope that we can preserve the fishing industry in Connecticut for generations to come.”

Scott Yerman, captain of “New Horizon” and a fisherman for 35 years, said his vessel and crew lately have been doing double duty – fishing and working as a safety scout vessel on offshore wind projects whereby they serve as go-betweens for fellow fishermen and offshore wind developers during construction of wind farms.

“Sen. Somers’ bill supports new opportunity for Connecticut fishermen directly through the mitigation fund,” Yerman said. “The funds’ crew safety training to include medical, firefighting, radar and electronics training will also enhance fishing vessel safety upgrades with new state-of-the art electronics, helping fishing vessels navigate through wind farms safely and efficiently.”

Tibbens, a crew member of “New Horizon,” was sent to STCW training, medical firefighting and survival training in preparation for offshore wind opportunities.

“As a result, we have returned to commercial fishing and I continue to be a crew member of this vessel without losing income,” Tibbens said. “Having the safety training and ability to work in the fishing industry and doing duties related to offshore wind allows me to make a year-round living supporting myself and my family.

“I support Senate Bill 383 because CTE mitigation funds will provide the same opportunities for existing and new crew members to follow the same path I took. This training is expensive and time-consuming. It’s all about supporting my family and being safe at sea and making a living on the ocean.”

Sen. Somers said the mitigation fund would address the issues that currently effect commercial fishing and perhaps marine mammals and other species.

“The mitigation fund is critical,” Somers told the committee. “This training may provide a supplemental income for those fishermen and an opportunity to work collaboratively with offshore wind by using Connecticut local fishermen on Connecticut wind power jobs, such as scout and safety. We would make a critical difference in the impact that our commercial fishing industry will see.”

Craig Devlin, Chief Operations Officer for Sea Services North America, said “mitigation is clearly an important concept that has received a great deal of attention from the OSW industry, the public sector and commercial fishing interests. Mitigation seeks to provide a level outcome for commercial fishing.”

Gary Yerman, a 50-year fisherman, and Sea Services’ Fleet Manager, noted that fishermen have sought ways to survive for years, but fishery regulations, quota reductions, the COVID-19 pandemic, increased operating costs and general downturn in the economy have made it harder than ever.

“In different ways,” Yerman said, “we are all looking to augment our losses with other sources of revenue.”

In that context, Yerman told the committee how Bill 383 works cooperatively with the aim of Sea Services – to provide access to offshore wind work for active fishermen, new income streams and increase the safety of fishing vessels and crews.

“Through our experience, we’ve learned that it will take the type of thinking and leadership behind this bill to keep it going,” Yerman said. “I support the $16 million to fishing mitigation and training.”