By Captain Paul Eidman
It was all over the news: Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on new wind energy areas (WEAs) for offshore wind developers to start the survey process and determine where and how they will install the offshore wind turbines off New York and New Jersey.
As an experienced charter captain and recreational fisherman, and a close follower of the offshore wind energy industry, I wanted to explain what I believe this auction and these six WEAs mean to the fishing community.
First off, these new areas are further out than earlier wind farms and far out of reach of the average boater, with the closest area being 27 miles off the coast of New Jersey and the furthest being 53 miles out at sea!
Second, from the data provided we can estimate that there will be about 370* and the actual commissioning of these wind farms may not happen until almost 2030 or even later, so it is not going to be happening for a while. There’s a lot of engineering, permitting, and background work that goes into this process. Offshore wind takes an average of 7 years from winning the bid to having blades spinning and making energy.
Foundation-based offshore wind turbines max out depth-wise at about 190 feet, so these new areas are as far offshore as possible without going off the continental shelf which just happens to be in the sweet spot for blue and yellowfin tuna, so these structures will provide an incredible angling opportunity. These towers will become a magnet for the forage species that the tuna love to prey upon, you could even jig up some whiting which is highly prized as tuna bait.
I asked NY Bight charter Capt/Owner John McMurray for his reaction, knowing that he has expanded his One More Cast charter services dramatically to cater to the “jig and pop” tuna fishing community. Capt. John replied that he was “excited about the prospect of these new turbine areas and they will be in a very fishy spot. You just have to look at what the offshore oil rigs have done for the fishing & fisherman down in the Gulf of Mexico, plus there’s no oil to spill and the noise from the operations down there have little or no effect on the fishing.”
Originally, he was concerned about being shut out of the entire area during the construction phase as it was rumored that the areas would be closed off for a year or more. But in speaking with people in the industry, Capt. John found that the restriction would be limited only to the specific turbine being installed, with a security area drawn around it leaving the rest of the wind energy area open to fish.
Capt. John also reminded me that such structures won’t simply aggregate fish but increase bio productivity all around. All kinds of growth occurs on the tower below, supporting all the creatures that eat it, which in turn, supports predators that eat them.
Tuna aside, the Mahi Mahi fishing around the towers and related substations has the potential, especially at these depths to be world-class and the potential to catch a major league bull Mahi presents itself like never before, not to mention other prime game fish.
On the whole, then, I believe that the six new wind farms will add more than 300 individual artificial reefs to the NY Bight area, which will allow charter captains to increase their businesses and catch more fish, and that in turn will bring in more revenues for docks, bait shops, and other supporting coastal businesses, not to mention opportunities to work with the developers on fishing surveys, as marine mammal observers, security vessels, etc. There are some real benefits to recreational fishing here if we know where to look for them.
*This estimate is based on the agreed-upon megawatt (MW) installation capacity of each area divided by using the most powerful WTG available which is 15 mw currently.
Example: Area OCS-A 0544 at 523 MW divided by 15mw = 34 turbines