Offshore wind and fisheries can coexist today to best address the challenges of tomorrow
The ocean off the American coastline is a vital national resource, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harness it in a manner that both feeds and powers the country. The U.S. offshore wind industry can rise to the moment to provide the nation with the clean power that it needs while working alongside a successful and sustainable U.S. fishing industry that continues to provide food security nationally and economic opportunities for coastal communities.
The fishing industry is resilient. Fishing has evolved in countless ways over the past few decades, with technological advancements, industry innovations and even target species all changing to meet society’s demand for sustainable seafood. The fishing industry, the ocean, and the world are now facing a whole new type of challenge today: addressing the impacts of a warming planet due to climate change.
In the United States, offshore wind is an untapped domestic, reliable clean energy source. Developing offshore wind in American waters offers an opportunity to build a new domestic energy industry, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, securing our energy supply in the face of global crises, and lessening the climate impacts felt by fishermen and coastal communities.
To reap these benefits and address a changing climate, offshore wind and fishermen will need to work together. It is possible to have thriving commercial fishery stocks and responsible domestic clean energy in the ocean for the benefit of everyone – but it will take communication and collaboration.
A Seat at the Table for BOEM’s Offshore Wind Process
The process of building a new ocean energy industry to accommodate our nation’s growing energy needs must account for the strong economic and cultural ties that fishermen and coastal communities have to the water. As offshore wind gets ready to take off here in the U.S., the offshore wind industry has redoubled its commitment to being responsible participants in the collective management of the ocean. Organizations like the American Clean Power Association (ACP) want to support efforts by the offshore wind industry to work closely with the fishing industry to achieve successful and sustainable outcomes for both industries.
Offshore wind developers recognize the importance of working closely with the fishing industry as a critical component of achieving successful outcomes throughout the design, construction, and operation of projects. That work requires meaningful and direct engagement to understand fisheries concerns and obtain detailed input on fisheries operations. This, in turn, can contribute to the successful design of a project that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates impacts. Collaboration and coordination between the industries is attainable and is essential to successful futures for both industries, but it requires trust, and effective engagement and integration of fisheries inputs in the development process.
Offshore wind developers have spent more than a decade working with ocean users and Federal, state, and local governments to make sure everyone has a seat at the table and help find solutions that work for all. Fishermen, offshore wind developers, and other ocean users have numerous opportunities to engage and provide feedback throughout state and federal regulatory processes. ACP’s Offshore Wind Public Participation Guide breaks down the offshore wind leasing and permitting process for ocean users and includes ways for their voices to be heard throughout the leasing process.
Fishermen’s voices have indeed been heard in the offshore wind regulatory process. For instance, fishermen and other public input resulted in a 72 percent reduction of the Call Area of New York Bight (NYB) from an initial 1.7 million acres to approximately 488,000 acres in the Final Sale Notice. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) also made several significant modifications to the NYB lease areas in response to specific input from the fishing industry. And in June of this year, BOEM took an important step by seeking public comments on a draft framework for fisheries mitigation and hosted several opportunities throughout the summer to weigh in on the process.
“BOEM has an incredibly difficult job and should get a lot of credit for working hard to balance a lot of different ocean users—including commercial fisheries —into their leasing and permitting process,” says Josh Kaplowitz, Vice President, Offshore Wind at American Clean Power. “BOEM often reaches decisions that the offshore wind industry doesn’t entirely like. But we recognize that sometimes they need to find that middle ground.”
Reaching Out, Meeting In The Middle
Offshore wind developers are also proactively addressing a myriad of fishing concerns, an effort which is fully outlined in ACP’s Co-Existence FAQs resource. Sometimes, that involves changes in the designs of their projects. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, for instance, developers agreed to uniform wind turbine spacing that reduced potential energy generation by as much as 30 percent but created over 200 one-mile wide corridors to address navigational concerns raised by the commercial fishing industry.
During the planning, development, and construction process, the offshore wind industry works regularly with the fishing industry. Offshore wind fisheries liaisons conduct regular, in-person meetings at fishing ports near the offshore wind projects to collect input from and provide information to fishermen.
This year, the offshore wind industry proposed a federal fisheries compensation program that will ensure that fishermen are made whole for the loss of gear due to offshore wind activity, as well as loss of landings caused by construction, operation, and decommissioning of offshore wind facilities. But the fund need not stop there—it could also provide grants to fishermen to help them adapt to fishing near and within offshore wind farms. For example, the fund could pay for new clam dredges that can more efficiently operate between offshore wind turbines.
This compensation program can create win-win scenarios that allow fishing to adapt with new technologies while also enabling offshore wind to be built. Doing so will maintain thriving fisheries and healthy ocean ecosystems.
“We genuinely believe that offshore wind and fishing can coexist and that there's not a tradeoff. The two are synergistic and not necessarily in conflict but it requires compromise,” Kaplowitz said. “We want to work alongside fishermen and for them to see the growth potential for their industry from U.S. offshore wind.”
Synergies Between Wind and Fishing
There are also ways in which offshore wind and commercial fishing can mutually benefit each other. ACP’s research shows that developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind over the next decade could create 83,000 new jobs and attract $57 billion of investment into the U.S. economy. Growing offshore wind will create numerous job opportunities for local coastal communities and the offshore wind industry is investing in offshore wind job training programs and port development opportunities that will benefit marine users. For example, developers are also employing fishing vessels as scout vessels and seafloor survey vessels are typically staffed with local fishermen, or fisheries’ experts which allows for additional income opportunities, directly includes fishermen in the development process, and facilitates active communication during offshore activities with nearby fishing vessels.
“We want this technology to preserve and create jobs,” Kaplowitz continued. “Fishing is a generational industry, and we want to ensure that U.S. fishermen and fisheries continue to thrive in this new economy and at the same time create new opportunities for the next generation of fishermen.”
In addition to providing economic benefits, the growth of offshore wind will enhance marine ecosystems and create fisheries opportunities. Offshore wind turbine foundations can act as an artificial reef, attracting new fish to the area, as evidenced by numerous studies. One such example is a recent seven-year trawl study conducted by commercial fishermen at the first offshore wind farm in Block Island, Rhode Island, which concluded that wind turbine installation has not harmed fish populations. In fact, biological enhancement was quantified with more black sea bass congregating in the area.
Additional research and resources that outline the takeaways of these studies are readily available and show a promising future. However, this is just the beginning. As further offshore wind research develops, the offshore wind industry will continue to work with all fishermen and other ocean users to measure impacts responsibly in manner that will benefit our ocean ecosystem.
As an entirely new industry takes off in the United States, the offshore wind industry is committed to ensuring responsible coexistence for all ocean users. All ocean users are encouraged to participate in the offshore wind development process as we collectively strive to protect our planet.