At the end of June, anglers from across the Northeast joined Anglers for Offshore Wind Power, state officials and offshore wind developer fisheries liaisons on a fishing trip to America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island, Rhode Island.
This was a tremendous opportunity for recreational anglers to see firsthand how offshore wind turbines create structure and attract fish, but also to build relationships so that we continue to have a voice as more and bigger wind farms are developed.
Despite it being a cloudy, rainy morning with slow fishing, we still boated a few keeper summer flounder and black sea bass. There have been rumblings about how flounder are affected by undersea electrical cables, but all accounts from local anglers are that the flounder fishing at the wind farm is as good if not better than before the turbines. We confirmed that by taking a few fish from spots very close to the turbines.
The developer of the Block Island Wind Farm, Deepwater Wind, also set the precedent for how to work with the angling community. They built relationships with local charter captains, as well as the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association, and have monitored impacts to the fisheries after construction. Most importantly, they have followed through on their commitment to always allowing fishing access right to the base of the turbines.
The next project slated for development, known as Vineyard Wind, will be built 17 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and have 81 turbines. In addition, Deepwater Wind will be developing a 15 turbine project off of Rhode Island. There are also plans for a 600 megawatt project that will split power between Rhode Island and Connecticut in the same area. Likewise, New Jersey just announced its first ever offshore wind project – the 1100 megawatt Ocean Wind project off of Atlantic City. Because turbine capacity and technology is advancing so rapidly, we won't know exactly how many turbines each project will be until closer to construction, but suffice to say it is likely we’ll see at least a couple hundred turbines in the water in the next few years.
That is why it is so important for anglers to have experiences like we did at the wind farm. Offshore wind power is an important way to reduce the pollution that is driving climate change. as warming waters and higher sea levels are already changing distributions of fish and impacting our fisheries. These hundreds of turbines will create underwater structure that will attract fish. Anglers can and will support offshore wind, but only if it is done right by guaranteeing fishing access, committing to scientific monitoring and providing opportunities to provide input on every step of the development process.
The good news is we’re being heard, in part because of the relationships we create on trips like this. For instance, Vineyard Wind committed to monitoring impacts to highly migratory fish species after hearing from recreational anglers that their site is a big game fishery for pelagic species. We’ve also gotten developer representatives and the Coast Guard to say public over and over again that they have no intent to restrict fishing access to the turbines. And finally, we’ve been showing up at environmental impact hearings, fisheries management council meetings and other events to ensure the recreational voice is being heard.
After another successful fishing trip, we’re all looking forward to being able to fish at one of the new wind farms in the near future, and are committed to ensuring the lessons learned from Block Island Wind Farm are applied to any future development.