A nationwide coalition of commercial fishing groups is calling on Congress for nearly $74 million in federal spending to survey and plan for how U.S. offshore wind energy development is going to change marine environments and fishing communities.
The accelerating drive to develop ocean wind power so far has led to 28 wind lease areas in federal waters, two projects now underway off southern New England, and nearly 55 million acres ln all coasts now in consideration for possible development.
“The enormous size of these areas and their direct overlap with key grounds for seafood production and protected resource conservation underscore the critical need for funding to address the impacts of this burgeoning industry,” the Seafood Harvesters of America and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance wrote in a June 21 letter to Congressional leaders on behalf of 75 fishing associations and businesses.
The letter notes nearly $45 million the Biden administration has budgeted in fiscal year 2022 for the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct various studies related to offshore wind.
But almost the same amount at $43.75 million is now needed just to assure that NMFS annual scientific surveys – the keystone for monitoring fisheries resources – can be continued while working around wind turbine projects, the letter states. That would be a 250 percent increase over of what’s allocated so far.
“The scale of OSW (offshore wind) proposed in the U.S. is staggering,” the letter states. “Other federal agencies have received billions of dollars to support OSW permitting and transmission needs; we feel the development of appropriate environmental impact mitigation strategies are equally important, if not more so.”
The push for energy development at sea threatens to disrupt decades of scientific work that has built U.S. ocean and fisheries public policy into the world’s best, the advocates stress.
“Fisheries data collection, surveys, and assessments are crucial to our understanding of our ocean and fishery resources. Specifically, the data collected through annual federal scientific surveys is an integral piece of the stock assessment and catch limit setting process, foundational pillars of our nation’s sustainable fisheries management,” the letter says.
“NMFS currently conducts more than 50 such long-term standardized surveys, many of which have been ongoing for more than 30 years. These surveys provide a long-term time series data set, essentially a time lapse of the status of fish stocks; their scientific value lies in their consistency over time.”
Those longtime survey procedures and patterns will unavoidably need to change as wind turbine arrays occupy offshore lease areas, NMFS officials have said. The resulting effects on statistical design, habitat changes and loss of sampling efficiency must be accounted for.
“This mitigation work is a significant undertaking for a single scientific survey and yet we are now looking at no fewer than 25 known surveys across the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that will be disrupted by OSW,” the letter says. “At $1.75 million per affected survey to adjust scientific methodologies and calibrations in the face of large-scale OSW installations, this request is both reasonable and necessary.”
Along with additional mitigation funding, fishing groups suggest $30 million to pay for new cooperative research projects between NMFS and industry partners “specific to addressing the impacts of offshore wind energy development on our marine environment and fishing communities. This would provide each (NMFS regional) Fisheries Science Center $5 million,” according to the proposal.
“Investments in cooperative research will enable NMFS scientists to partner with commercial fishermen to gather scientifically rigorous data to better understand and mitigate the impacts of offshore wind energy development,” said Leigh Habegger, executive director of the Seafood Harvesters of America.
“Cooperative research also provides valuable opportunities for NMFS scientists to gather data in areas where their ships may not be able to transit, including within wind turbine arrays.”
A boost in science funding is critical “to research the impacts of this development on our marine environment and seafood businesses,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance. “Fishing communities remain extremely concerned that they’ve been excluded from wind energy planning, resulting in large-scale risk to domestic seafood production with little information on how to mitigate these impacts.”
The information gaps now threaten “important parts of our fisheries management system including federal scientific surveys,” said Hawkins. “Through decades of fisheries management, data collected by these surveys have provided key understanding of fisheries stock dynamics, marine mammals, and climate change. We must ensure adequate funds are appropriated to address the loss of these data moving forward.”
The letter to Congress says “cooperative research will allow fishermen and processors to participate in improving our collective understanding of impacts and how best to sustain the viability of both industries. Fishermen develop important hypotheses based on observed environmental changes and collect data that improve understanding of local conditions and inform climate and fisheries sciences.
“More cooperative research would assist in understanding fisheries behavior and operational needs in relation to OSW. Cooperative Research projects specific to OSW may also provide an alternative source of income for those fishermen who are displaced from their fishing grounds and present an opportunity for fishermen to assist NMFS in collecting data in/around OSW arrays where larger NOAA research vessels may not be able to access.”
“Additionally, given the pace of OSW and the lack of consideration of development on fisheries impacts, this funding is important now; securing funding after surveys are impacted will be too late,” the letter concludes.
“While we acknowledge the need to take action on climate change, our government must ensure that it does everything in its power to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts of OSW on our marine environment, fishing businesses, and fishing communities.”