New Jersey Captain, Reel Therapy
Because of climate change, ocean water temperatures have been rising for decades, and warmer water is forcing gamefish and other marine creatures to move eastward and northward into deeper and colder waters.
Surf and Quahog clams and scallops have all moved further away from the bottom areas they used to prefer. Lobsters that were taken south of Long Island are shifting northward and moving closer into Atlantic Canada. Black sea bass have been migrating north for years. All of us working and fishing on the water are seeing drastic changes before our eyes, happening faster than we can adapt.
In addition to warming waters, the Atlantic is becoming more acidic as higher carbon dioxide is changing the pH of seawater. Ocean acidification directly affects the calcium levels in the shells of creatures such as mussels, oysters, scallops, and clams. Increased acidity also effects the inner ear bones of certain finfish that directly impacts homing instincts for migration and spawning. Lobster studies have shown that acidification is causing them to have increased vulnerability due to “dull” senses and predators are taking full advantage of this. If you have heard of “bleaching” of coral reefs all over the world, this is also caused by acidification; any fisherman who has fished in the Caribbean knows that tropical shallow-water coral reefs are the “bread and butter” of fisheries habitat at these latitudes, and fishing, diving tourism and food production depend heavily on them. In fact, it’s estimated that acidification alone could cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in damage to fisheries, aquaculture, and reefs.
Fortunately, there is something we can do to slow down the twin dangers of seawater warming and acidification. After years of consultation and public input, the prospect of clean energy has arrived in the form of offshore wind generating renewable electricity. Hundreds of turbine towers are to be built and will be producing energy by 2025, expanding to over a thousand by 2030 on the continental shelf along the East Coast.
At the foundation of each of these generators will be an 80-foot diameter radius of football sized granite rocks (scour protection) surrounding a 30-foot diameter steel tower that extends off the seafloor through the water column and up into the sky.
One turbine at a time, the day these turbines are installed will be the birthday of an individual artificial reef, built in barren areas. In a matter of months, mussels and other invertebrates will colonize the new structure and in turn, forage fish, gamefish and predators of all kinds will flock to this newly formed reef system.
What is currently barren seafloor, tormented by decades of bottom trawling and dredging will be converted into a massive artificial reef system that will run down the East coast. Without a doubt, we will witness a fish factory growing in front of our eyes, with mega scale “fish aggregating devices” (FAD’s) creating a vital habitat that’s both home and nursery for fish production. Increasing habitat for forage and gamefish species that inhabit the entire water column is the key to rebuilding fish stocks, especially at a time when so many of our species are diminishing.
BOTH Recreational and commercial fishermen will directly benefit from these new reefs in the very near future.
Recreational anglers recognize the benefits of how clean energy from offshore wind power can help to put the brakes on the climate related damage done to gamefish species. As fishermen, we are pre-wired with a “find the structure find the fish” mindset and see a giant “win-win”. With full access to every structure, we are excited about the potential, not only that the structures will hold the fish longer along our coast, but to enhance the predictability and potential catches of bottom fish like summer flounder (fluke), black sea bass, tautog, cod and more. Bluefish, all types of tuna, bonito and mahi mahi will congregate and feed further up the tower.
There is already talk of adding well-designed turbine reef enhancement on top of the scour protection rock to enhance fishing and to improve fish stocks. Behind the scenes, we have been talking about the developer decommissioning process 25 years from now. We are working towards an implementation of the “rigs to reef” program (just like in the Gulf of Mexico) to ensure that after decades of ecosystem enhancement, these valuable reefs can be retained, and locations shared with fishermen and divers.
The five turbines at the Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island have been in the water as a prototype since 2016 and have quickly become a fishing hotspot destination for anglers seeking of all kinds of gamefish in all seasons. And, more recently, the two new turbines placed by Dominion Energy last summer twenty-seven miles off Virginia Beach have also become an instant fish magnet, as recently witnessed by divers in just a few months after installation.
While they haven’t joined publicly in solidarity, there are other sectors of the commercial fishing world that quietly see the newfound structure as predictable hotspots to help them as well. Family-owned smaller commercial vessels that fish with static gear and provide local sustainable seafood for market (think black sea bass, blackfish, lobster, monkfish etc.) will be the first to set gear near these foundations and thrive. We have already seen this occur on the 13 artificial reefs here off New Jersey that were intended for the recreational sector and spent a decade getting “the pots off the reefs”. These new turbine reefs will clearly be added to the hotspot list of new nearshore fishing destinations, supporting smaller, less-damaging methods of commercial fishing that don’t resort to expansive bottom trawling.
The old proverb ‘A lie will go round the world while the truth is pulling its boots on’ has never been more applicable. Nowadays, in the sea of social media and political overtones, false claims against offshore wind travel at light speed and getting solid information out is incredibly tricky.
One FACT that we can’t ignore is that continuing to burn coal, fuel oil and natural gas for electric power at the current rate will ruin our oceans and the creatures in it. Climate change is an undeniable threat to recreational fishing.
Looking at the many ways responsibly developed offshore wind power will improve the ocean; we are hopeful that it will benefit fisheries production sustainably for generations to come. Pollution free energy from offshore wind turbines offers us a solution that can help to slow down some of the most serious issues facing all fishermen. Offshore wind power could enhance and bring new life to our coastal ecosystems and economy if we just give it a chance.
Follow these links to watch offshore wind videos and our fishing trip to the Block Island Wind Farm
Link to petition for New Jersey residents:
Take Action (offshorewindnj.org)