US to conduct fisheries research to guide offshore wind development

Four US institutions have received $ 1.1 million in grants to conduct fisheries studies which will guide the ongoing development of the offshore wind industry in North America.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) ($ 496,688), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management ($ 200,000), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) ($ 400,000) provided the funding for the research.

The first-in-the-nation studies will conduct research on recreational and commercial fisheries, seabed habitat, and comparable offshore wind policies in Europe.

The grant recipients

INSPIRE Environmental has received $ 443,450 to conduct a two-year acoustic tagging and tracking study of highly migratory species such as tuna and sharks at popular recreational fishing spots in the wind energy areas, in order to provide new baseline data on highly migratory species.

INSPIRE will also develop standard approaches to synthesizing, visualizing and disseminating high-resolution acoustic and imagery data for mapping of seabed habitat in the wind energy areas. This will advance baseline characterization of the seabed environment and make high-resolution mapped data available to stakeholders in a web-based, vetted and neutral forum.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMD) has received $ 278,592 to conduct towed net surveys for larval lobster and fish neuston (small fish organisms) throughout the wind energy areas. This 18-month study will provide baseline information on the spatial and temporal distribution of species at their earliest life stage, during which they are transported by tides and currents.

The University of Rhode Island (URI) has secured $ 249,646 to merge electronic and other data on fishing vessel activity into a single data set and apply a “machine learning” approach to enable lower-cost broad-scale modeling of the probability of fishing activity in a given area. This will allow researchers to identify where and when vessels are actually fishing, as opposed to being in transit.

The New Bedford Port Authority will use its $ 125,000 grant to work with a consultant to conduct a comparative analysis of policies regarding coexistence of commercial fishing with existing offshore wind in Europe and emerging policies in Japan. The study is intended to establish a fact-based and broadly accepted narrative in this area.

“Collaborating with our state and federal partners to support these studies will help us better manage fisheries and natural habitats, while positioning the offshore wind industry to stimulate economic development and deliver clean, affordable energy to Massachusetts,” said the Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker.

The outcomes

The studies are expected to advance the assessment of the interactions between offshore wind development and fisheries in the northeast. The five studies will generate important information and data during the pre-construction period for the region’s first offshore wind projects, and will help establish baseline datasets on fisheries and seabed habitat. The studies will also advance new and uniform methodologies for ongoing data collection and analysis.

“The continued success of offshore industries in the United States requires strong coordination and consultation with our state partners,” said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank.

“The studies announced today will help ensure BOEM has sufficient baseline information to support its environmental assessments of offshore wind projects on the Atlantic OCS.”

The initiative will support and inform a broader regional fisheries science and monitoring program being developed under the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance (ROSA), an entity established by the fishing community, offshore wind leaseholders, and federal and state agencies.

The studies will be managed by MassCEC in coordination with BOEM, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island fishery resource agencies.

“Offshore wind presents an opportunity to develop an abundant amount of clean, renewable energy while creating jobs and economic opportunity in coastal communities,” said MassCEC CEO Stephen Pike.

“By taking a proactive, comprehensive approach to environmental monitoring and data collection, we can position the offshore wind industry to realize a more efficient approach to development.”

Working with input and guidance from states and other stakeholders through a multi-year planning process, BOEM identified the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Wind Energy Area, located in federal waters on the outer continental shelf. The area was divided into seven lease areas, which were secured by four offshore wind developer teams through competitive auctions.

In August 2016, Governor Baker signed into law energy diversification legislation requiring utilities to competitively solicit and contract approximately 1,600 MW of offshore wind, leading to Massachusetts’ selection of the 800 MW Vineyard Wind project in 2017 and the 804 MW Mayflower Wind project in 2019.

In 2017, Rhode Island selected a 400 MW project proposed by Ørsted. In total, six projects have been selected for power sales contracts from the lease area. The projects are at various stages of permitting review, and while each project will have fisheries monitoring requirements relevant to the specific wind farm area, there is wide consensus that studies and monitoring are needed on a regional basis to examine long-term interactions between offshore wind, fisheries resources and fishing activity.

The studies receiving funding address species of interest for both commercial and recreational fishing, across a wide range of wind energy areas. These studies will also provide new and synthesized data where little or none exists today. The technical studies are designed to advance new, lower-cost approaches to mapping fishing activity, while assessing how offshore wind and fishing intersect and are regulated in other regions.