By: Capt. Paul Eidman, Reel Therapy with input from Kyle Kingman, Offshore Power, LLC
The topic of offshore wind development in New Jersey waters has created three main groups of people: Those all for clean, responsible, and affordable renewable energy growth, those against it for any and all reasons, and the silent majority who are waiting to see regardless of the outcome, and pretty much fine with either as long as their bills don’t rise too much. I'd like to focus here on those who are against offshore wind development.
Recently, there have been some fearful concerns being raised regarding the electromagnetic fields (EMF) produced by the submarine power transmission cables.
Specifically, there is a misleading claim that the EMF of a submarine power cable will create an electromagnetic barrier that fish, namely Summer flounder (Fluke) will not cross. The contention is that this would affect their annual migration inshore from offshore wintering areas and ultimately lead to the collapse of an important fishery, which is clearly a bad thing. As a result, they demand that offshore wind farms should be halted.
As a fisherman and not an offshore wind power expert, I reached out to folks outside of the offshore wind development companies and went down the supply chain to speak with experts in the field of underwater cables and electrical engineering. This is what I found out:
We must carefully acknowledge concerns which are based on direct observation, history, facts, and studies. However, this is not one of them. This selective reporting to elicit fear and create doubt about the future of wind farms is intentional and hollow. Very few studies have been done on the effects of submarine power EMF on bottom-dwelling fish such as flounder because no significant observable impacts have ever been reported with the existing offshore wind farms or submarine power cable systems, anywhere around the world.
Had the Fisherman Magazine chosen to report on this with accuracy in its April 2019 issue they would have concluded exactly what the 2006 Danish study found as well. The study concluded that there were no definitive responses or significant negative impacts observed. Flounder continued to cross the cable but may have been observed at times to go slower across the cable during the study, but it never interrupted the fish’s travel.
It is important to note that the scientists could not conclusively attribute changes in behavior to the EMF. This can be for a host of reasons. Perhaps fish were reacting to the observation methods. Fish may have sensed a slight remnant of a cable trench (structure) or even some thermal effects of the cable. Speaking to someone who is in the industry, they personally have witnessed thousands of flatfish in the North Sea crossing submarine power cables, swimming along them, and even using the remains of the cable trench as structure to hunt and hide for prey. A cable trench sometimes remains for a time following installation depending on the bottom conditions.
The bottom line as to why EMF is extremely unlikely to cause an effect on fish behavior and or migration patterns offshore New Jersey (or elsewhere) is because modern AC submarine power cables are heavily sheathed and shielded. The sheath blocks all electric fields, although the magnetic field remains. The cables used for offshore wind farms have 3 power cores bundled together inside a common armor layer. The current in the 3 cores is phase-shifted so that the magnetic fields from the cores oppose each other and thus the external magnetic field is very low. Finally, these cables would be buried to a depth of 2-3 meters (80 to 120 inches).
Where does this concern stem from? It seems to be rooted in a misunderstanding of the technology.
If EMF or specifically the magnetic field of the cables did, in fact, block fish from migrating, then there would be no flounder currently caught inside of many estuaries, bays, tidal rivers, fjords, and seas. We have many examples of around the world where submarine power cables of all types and sizes stand between these water bodies and the open water. The fish would not move in and out to breed and we would no longer have those fish after a few years. However, there is simply no practical evidence of an EMF barrier. Fully developed large scale wind farms overseas have been in operation for many years now with no reported related issues from the fisheries.
We can conclude that people with special interests against offshore wind development, against anything for that matter, will use any argument they can to stop it, even false arguments. They will use those arguments to gain support from whomever they can, even if the issue is completely invalid, as is with this EMF case. The irony to me is this EMF concern is being raised by a recreational fishing magazine that relies on selling advertising space to marine manufacturers and tackle trades.
One would think that these guys would dive head first into this, using the publication to encourage participation in the stewardship process.
We all need to stand together and make sure that the offshore wind developers take our input during the early planning stages and site turbines correctly. We should be using our collective voice to ensure we have access to project sites and raise real potential issues early to avoid conflict in the future. It seems there is another motivation beneath all of this, to help fan the flames of opposition that we are currently seeing from the profitable and influential commercial bottom trawling fleet and from folks that want to keep the natural gas supply pumping.
Burning fewer fossil fuels leads to cleaner, healthier waters which benefit us all. More structure in the water means more fish habitat and aggregation of key gamefish species like Black Sea Bass, Summer flounder, blackfish and many more. This leads to increased fishing opportunity, increased trips out on the water with more paying customers on party boats, and more folks feeling confident enough with the fishing to buy more tackle, boats, and trucks to tow them.
Overall, it leads to an improved and sustainable coastal economy. Looking at the long-term gains instead of short-term profits, offshore wind power could help stem the tide of rising water temperatures and help to hold our gamefish species along our shores and slow many species’ northward progression. All this while adding thousands of American jobs, sustaining our coastal economy and building the recreational fishing business!
Kyle Kingman is an expert in high voltage submarine cable systems, installation, and protection. He has worked with numerous large energy companies and Transmission System Operators around the world including providing the lead representation of the two largest HVDC Power Interconnector projects in history, which represents a 4 Billion Euro combined investment.
Capt. Paul Eidman is an NJ based small business owner of Reel Therapy fishing charters and an advocate for fisheries conservation and habitat. He represents Anglers for Offshore Wind Power, a group that is speaking up for responsibly developed offshore wind power. AFOWP's key principles are Angler access, angler input, and science before, during and after construction.
By Captain Paul Eidman - New Jersey Fishing Guide
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Back in May, I attended my first public meeting about the offshore wind farms planned for the waters off New Jersey’s coast. Little did I know, I was entering into new and uncharted waters and I needed to ramp up fast just to keep up with the pace that all of this was happening at this meeting. Despite hearing discussions about offshore wind power in New Jersey years ago, I thought the issue was asleep. I came to realize that when Gov. Christie left office, a new door swung wide open and offshore wind power development is back on in a big way. I was surprised that both Gov. Murphy and President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke were speaking from the same page about the need to develop this resource.
The federal folks holding the meeting were from BEOM, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which as it turns out, would be the first of dozens of acronyms that were hurled at me for the next hour and a half. I remember BOEM from many of the sand mining meetings over the past few years. They are the “landlord” for the ocean floor from 3 to 200 miles out, or as we know it the EEZ, Exclusive Economic Zone.
I was the only recreational fisherman in attendance, and there were over 50 people in the room. It was clear to me by the end of the meeting that more of us need to be engaged in this process from the beginning so we can reap benefits for recreational fishing. We need more fish attracting structures in the ocean and these platforms, if they are anything like the oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, would be kick ass spots for everything from Black sea bass to mahi mahi. Each one of these platforms will become a “fish factory” in addition to providing a holding area for many migrating species. There were however, many commercial guys, mainly the trawler guys in the commercial clam, scallop and squid business. While they are skeptical of what offshore wind farms will do their ability to trawl in these areas, recreational fishermen need to speak up because it will likely make our fishing better.
BOEM was soliciting input on a “call area” – which is a proposed area for offshore wind power development in the New York/New Jersey Bight. At first glance of the maps, I was frankly shocked by the size. However, that is exactly why BOEM was hosting this meeting. They were looking for feedback on which areas to remove from potential development. In fact, previous call areas in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were altered before leasing due to angler feedback. That is why it is so important for us to be there.
As an angler, I do have particular concerns about development. First, we need to be able to fish these things. BOEM told me fishing would be allowed right up to the base of the turbines as long as we don’t tie up. Access will be limited during construction, understandably. Also, I was concerned about ongoing monitoring to fisheries. We know these artificial reefs can be great for fishing, but we should be tracking all of the impacts, especially as more wind farms are developed. Many developers and BOEM are committed to this monitoring. I came away quite a bit more assured about offshore wind and its benefits for fishing, but still concerned that recreational anglers needed to provide input.
But it isn’t the last opportunity for us to provide feedback. Since this meeting I’ve learned a lot more about the process. First, BOEM creates a map for areas that could potentially be auctioned off for wind development. It then asks for input on where to or not to develop – which is what this meeting was. Then they will auction of pieces of this area to the highest bidder. Finally, that developer will submit a plan to BOEM that must be reviewed. Throughout these steps we will have opportunities to say what does and doesn’t work for anglers.
In addition to the future leasing of the New York and New Jersey Bight, there is an existing lease 12 miles of Atlantic City. The developer, Orsted, is currently doing a site assessment to determine the best place to locate turbines. They will share their plan with the public and we can provide input. There is also a small-scale demonstration project proposed for state waters off of Atlantic City called Nautilus. While this development could be good for fishing in state waters, environmental organizations are concerned about impacts to birds like the iconic Red Knot. Personally, I want to make sure these things benefit the entire ecosystem and am concerned about unintended consequences of projects like this while remaining excited about the bigger opportunities offshore.
We also already have an existing demonstration project off of Block Island, Rhode Island. Back in 2016, Deepwater Wind completed construction on the first offshore windfarm in the USA, the Block Island Wind Farm, a small project consisting of 5 turbines that are now powering 17,000 homes and business on Block Island. They sit about 4 miles off the Southeast corner of the island and are producing about 30 megawatts of power. The transmission line runs from mid-island back to the main land and works both ways.
It was barely a few months before mussels and underwater growth began to form on the bases and each of them became an ecosystem quickly. Fisherman began catching black sea bass, summer flounder (fluke), cod and tautog soon after the construction stopped. The Coast Guard and the developers have reassured the public can have full access for anglers, divers and spearfisherman that you can get as close as you want, you just can’t tie off.
The Block Island Wind Farm replaced an antiquated power plant that ran on diesel fuel that was brought over, in a tanker truck, on top of a ferry. The islanders were paying some of the highest rates in the country because of this, and it was dirty to boot. There were significant savings in energy costs gained by shifting over to wind power, but because the new system is only 5 turbines, the savings as compared to a system that would feed New Jersey and New York is much smaller. As in many things, large scale will make offshore wind energy cheaper.
Recently, base cost estimates for a new, larger wind farm planned south of Martha’s Vineyard were almost on-par with fossil fuels in the area. That’s what they call “parity’ in the renewable world and once that parity goal is achieved, there’s no stopping renewables from becoming a bigger part of the current New Jersey Board of Public Utilities portfolio and hopefully displacing many fossil fuels. Offshore wind has the potential to reduce carbon emissions drastically, increase America’s energy independence and have a major impact on stalling climate change. In turn, this will help to keep many of our gamefish species hanging tight along our coast for all of us “fish heads” to enjoy!
I look forward to staying engaged on these important developments on offshore wind in the coming months. I’ll be sure to keep JCAA members and the board informed on where we can have the biggest impact to ensure recreational fishing opportunities are kept in mind as development moves forward quickly.
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