Concern over the impact of offshore wind energy development – and potentially aquaculture in federal waters – has the New England Fishery Management Council preparing a ‘Habitat Area of Particular Concern’ (HAPC) in southern New England to focus on cod, scallops and other species that rely on essential fish habitat south of Cape Cod.

During its Feb. 1-3 meetings the council initiated a framework adjustment to develop the new HAPC, with a goal of having it ready in April.

According to a council summary, HAPCs “emphasize the importance of specific areas and habitat features; and strengthen the basis for conservation recommendations designed to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts on habitat.”

With Vineyard Wind undertaking construction of it 800-megawatt project and neighboring leaseholders moving forward, offshore wind is the council’s most immediate concern.

Longer term is the potential for offshore aquaculture, with some companies exploring how to raise Atlantic salmon and other species off southern New England.

To the north, aquaculture also has the council’s attention with a different proposal by Running Tide Technology to grow kelp on the northwestern part of Fippennies Ledge in the Gulf of Maine.

In a presentation to the council, its habitat committee recommended “a new HAPC in Southern New England is needed to provide conservation focus for specific New England Council-managed species with EFH (essential fish habitat) in the area. This is due to concerns about impacts from offshore development, specifically offshore wind in the near term, and possibly offshore aquaculture in the future.”

A Feb. 15 comment letter from council executive director Tom Nies to the Army Corps of Engineers outlined the Running Tide kelp project – and the council’s concerns there.

The project proposes to grow kelp on 30 vertical lines with 15 separate moorings, each line attached to a 30-foot chain and 600-pound concrete block anchor. A corps public notice for the project describes the affected area as 0.2 acres but Nies’ letter suggests it could be closer to 2 acres.

“Our understanding is that this project is a multi-year pilot effort to test environmental sensors and measure kelp growth rates under offshore conditions. Their longer-term plans are to develop and deploy floating kelp growing platforms much farther offshore, which will eventually sink and sequester carbon in the deep-sea,” Nies wrote.

“While this longer-term work is not part of this permit application, we think it would help explain the need for the pilot project in relation to Running Tides’ long-term objectives…explaining the nature and duration of the project may help to allay fishing industry concerns.”

The council is concerned that bottom structure might be damaged by moving gear, the letter says. Fippennies Ledge is managed as a habitat closure where bottom tending mobile gear is prohibited.

“We do know that the area is fished by for-hire charter boats targeting both groundfish and highly migratory species, and some of the captains have expressed concerns about the need to avoid the vertical lines,” Nies wrote. “If the permit is issued, it will be important for Running Tide to clearly communicate the location of each mooring and the timing of installation. We suggest requiring a fisheries communications plan as a condition of the permit.”

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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