There’s something in the wind that’s good for recreational fishing. According to the recreational fishing community, it is ocean wind farms. Ocean wind farms have and will continue to create fishing opportunities for anglers and above all will reduce pollution that harms fish and our environment. Wind farms create artificial reef structure that is habitat for fish, just as the Block Island Wind Farm is habitat for fish already. However, most feel we need to move forward with some caution.
Private recreational anglers, charter captains and commercial fishermen alike have successfully fished the Block Island Wind Farm area. Anglers have caught summer flounder, black sea bass, and scup at the wind farm, and this fall and early winter the cod fish bite was good there too.
“This is structure but a different type than we are used to out there. They are 60 to 90 foot vertical columns of structure. This is something good for fishing.” said Bob Murray, a commercial rod and reel fisherman and recreational fisherman who often fishes the Block Island Wind Farm area.
Rich Hittinger, RI Saltwater Anglers Association vice president said, “In late fall we caught a dozen nice cod fishing the edges and humps in the wind farm area in deep water. The fish were there and the fishing was good.”
Chris Brown, a commercial fisherman who is president of the Commercial Fisheries Center in Rhode Island said, “Fishermen were initially terrorized as to what was going to be built, but this fall I made a living towing all around the Block Island Wind Farm.”
Capt. Chris Willi of Block Island Fish Works Charters has fished and lived on Block Island for over 25 years. Willi said, “Build a bridge or a wind farm, and its structure is going to build life. It’s the basis of a food chain. There’s mussel growth on the pylons, which brings in crabs to feed. Bait fish will feed on the crabs, and then larger fish will feed on the smaller fish. It’s all a food chain.”
Capt. Jack Sprengel of East Coast Charters said, “The wind farm is a good thing for our fishery, creating current breaks and more food for species like tautog, black sea bass and others. You might say these pylons will be like the rock piles we all search for out there. They will aggregate fish just like oil rigs do in the Gulf.”
Move forward with caution
All of this positive news about ocean wind farms and fishing has created excitement and anticipation. But all anglers are saying we need to move forward with some caution as two to three hundred wind turbines will be erected as planned southeast of Block Island off Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Three firms have secured leases to build wind farms in federal waters between Block Island and off Nantucket. One of the wind farms is scheduled to be built on Cox Ledge, about 20 miles southeast of Pt. Judith, Narragansett. The leases are held by Deepwater Wind New England, LLC on Cox Ledge (developers of the Block Island wind farm) and two other southeast lease areas held by Bay State Wind, LLC and Offshore MW, LLC.
This winter at a wind farm workshop at UMass Dartmouth, Malcom Spaulding, PhD of the University of Rhode Island, said, “We spent a lot of time locating the Block Island wind farm. We started in 2008 with the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and the wind farm was not operational until 2016… The farther you go offshore, the greater the wind; however, add geology and fishery factors into the equation and the sweet spot for the Block Island wind farm was about three miles off the south/southeast side of the Island where the wind farm is located. The new proposed sites off Massachusetts and Rhode Island can utilize the same model. We just have to put in predetermined criteria.”
The Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF) has had no remarkable adverse effects on the environment, fish, mammals, birds and people. This was the conclusion made after 50 scientists presented their research findings at the Southern New England Offshore Wind Energy Science Forum this winter held at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, RI.
Deepwater Wind (developers of the BIWF) is now developing a fifteen wind turbine project on Cox Ledge called South Fork Wind Farm which will supply power to Long Island, NY. Aileen Kenney, vice president of permitting and environmental affairs for DWW said, “We are closely looking at the cumulative impact and analysis of multiple turbines. After the 15 turbine South Fork Wind Farm we may build a 20 turbine and then possibly a 30 turbine farm adding to the research that we have already done along the way.”
Down sides of ocean wind farms
We do not know what the impact of a utility scale wind farm would be on fish and fish habitat because one has not yet been built in America. However, we should move forward will due diligence and embrace responsible wind farm development using the successful model developed by the BIWF pilot project and the South Fork Wind Farm now under development. These projects have and are proving that ocean wind energy is good for the people who get to use the energy, good for the environment, fish, fishermen and the nation.
Moving forward with due diligence means making sure habitat and fisheries research is done before, during and after project completion. Much the way the BIWF pilot project was handled. And second, we should explore scaling up the size of ocean wind farms slowly so we can measure and learn how they impact fish and environments.
How to help move ocean wind energy forward
The message is clear… ocean wind farms are good for the fish, good for recreational fishermen and good to reduce pollution and hazards to the environment.
Patrick Paquette, a recreational angler and fish advocate, was working the Anglers for Offshore Wind Power booth at the New England Saltwater Fishing Show this March. The organization aims to help support the responsible development of ocean wind farms while creating new fishing opportunities. In short, the organization supports access to turbine pylons and foundations (being able to fish close to them); public input or angler engagement early in the planning process for ocean wind power development; and science, meaning fisheries and habitat research before, during and after wind turbine construction.
The National Wildlife Federation is a supporting partner of Anglers for Offshore Wind. Zach Cockrum, Northeast Director of Conservation Partnerships, said, “Ocean wind power is a great opportunity for Americans and fishermen. Responsibly developed offshore wind is a clean energy source that is wildlife-friendly and will help reduce pollution. It’s an energy choice that will create jobs and economic growth. As an angler myself, I want to make sure recreational fishermen are informed about the development process and how it could benefit fishing.”
Paquette said, “Recreational angler interest in wind farms in New England is very high. Nearly everyone that stopped by our booth had high praises for ocean wind farms, and if they fished in the Block Island area they said the Block Island Wind Farm has had a positive impact on fishing in the area.”
The organization was showing an underwater video of sea life around Block Island Wind Farm turbine pylons. The video was filled with sea life… mussel growth with high numbers of scup and black seabass all around the pylon foundations, and larger fish, such as bluefish and striped bass, just off the pylons (click below for video link).
Take action now
Sign a pledge of support to make ocean wind power a reality. Action is needed at all levels of government to launch this new clean energy initiative. To sign an ocean wind energy pledge, for video links and for more information visit www.anglersforoffshorewind.org.