Managing Offshore Wind Threats to West Coast Fisheries

PCFFANote: The suddenly looming threat of massive, industrial-scale offshore wind farm development in the midst of the West Coast’s most productive fisheries is alarming. Identifying, avoiding and mitigating impacts on our fisheries is now a high industry priority. This special guest column by former PCFFA/IFR Executive Director Mike Conroy, now with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), will help bring West Coast fishing industry leaders up to speed on these issues as well as highlighting opportunities for making our fishing industry’s voice better heard. Endnote source references are indicated in the text by numbers in parenthesis.  – Glen Spain, Executive Director, PCFFA and IFR.

As many harvesters headed out during a busy time of year, this summer the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) pursued offshore wind permitting and development with a newfound fervor. Between publishing Records of Decision (Ocean Wind)(1), issuing Final Environmental Impact Statements, approving Construction and Operations Plans, approving incidental harassment authorizations and publishing proposed incidental take regulations, and then scheduling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico covering 301,746 acres (471.5 square miles), it has been a hectic season.

Image: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) aims to be a resource and unified voice for the Nation’s fishing industry on issues of offshore development. We closely track, and provide a summary below, of what is happening on this issue, including new related scientific findings and charting out how fishermen and processors can get their voices heard.

RODA ( is a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies committed to improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses. We have more than 240 individual and association members from across the nation representing well over a thousand seafood industry businesses.

Our harvester and processor representatives are dependent upon the marine space for their livelihoods and are integral to the nation’s seafood economy, food security and the culture and identity of many small coastal communities.

The world of offshore wind development is broad and can be overwhelming, so we thought it appropriate to break this column into three parts. The first is a brief overview of the planning processes utilized by the BOEM. The second provides brief updates on current and likely near-term actions, as of July 25. The third highlights the need to get involved, including how to connect with other local seafood industry businesses to ensure that our story continues to be told.

Federal Planning

BOEM is under the U.S. Department of the Interior and is now the federal agency primarily responsible for all activities related to offshore wind energy (OWE) that precede a facility’s operation. There are a number of different projects across the U.S. in various stages along the process continuum. As of the publication of this article, there are at least 37 active leases for OWE in marine waters of the U.S., covering thousands of miles.

In terms of environmental analysis, BOEM conducts Environmental Assessments (EAs) in advance of offering leases for sale. This EA, however, only looks at the environmental impacts of conducting the lease sale. The theory behind this is that a paper lease only gives the leaseholder the right to assess the site for potential development and submit a later Construction and Operations Plan (COP).

In reality, we have not seen a proposed project not be approved. BOEM does prepare a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) when a leaseholder submits their COP.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) also plays a limited role in the OWE permitting process. Because activities in support of OWE development will result in the “take” of marine mammals, project proponents are seeking NMFS Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) for site assessment and survey activities, and Letters of Authorization (LOA) and Incidental Take Regulations (ITRs) for construction activities. (3)

For example, on June 8, NMFS published proposed ITRs and an LOA for the Park City Wind project off New England which would allow the taking of 166,085 marine mammals by level B harassment and 692 by level A takes.(4)

NMFS also has a role under authority of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, Endangered Species Act and other applicable laws.

Other agencies also have roles in the OWE project approval process. For example, the U.S. Coast Guard is developing or has developed Port Access Route Studies for areas where OWE is planned or proposed and retains responsibility to ensure safe navigation and safety at sea, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has authority under Sections 10 and 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (RHA), Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA).

This list is not exclusive as many other federal agencies play a role.

RODA has active litigation pending, challenging a number of aspects of the first U.S. approved commercial scale OWE project, called “Vineyard 1,” off the coast of Massachusetts. The lawsuit alleges violations of several U.S. laws, including: Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Administrative Procedure Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act), Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The RODA lawsuit challenges the regulations at the heart of offshore wind projects around the country, and the goal is to force reconsideration of BOEM’s leasing and permitting process.  It therefore has true national relevance.

In short, we challenge: (A) inadequacies in the NEPA process; (B) the failure to consider reasonable fisheries mitigation measures due to signing of power purchase agreements in advance of environmental review; (C) the failure to analyze cumulative impacts of multiple offshore wind leases in the region; (D) a lack of fisheries engagement, and (E) the failure to consider land-based renewable energy options. To learn more about RODA’s lawsuit, read the complaint or visit our GoFundMe page. (5)(6)

Near-Term Actions

The current federal administration has established a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of OWE facilities by 2030. An additional goal of 15 GW of floating OWE facilities by 2035 was also established. Generally, floating OWE technologies will be utilized in deeper waters—for example off the U.S. West Coast, the central Atlantic and in the Gulf of Maine.

In order to meet that goal, the administration is putting significant time and resources into planning OWE projects across the nation. On July 20, BOEM announced the auction of three new lease sites in the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 29. (7)  BOEM is also moving forward with identifying potential lease sites in the Gulf of Maine, Central Atlantic, off the Oregon coast and off Hawaii.

Most coastal states are also setting their own renewable energy goals and creating state legislation to handle various aspects of this emerging industry.

Across the East Coast, states have already set high renewable energy goals. Rhode Island has a state goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030; New York has an offshore wind goal of 9 GW by 2035; New Jersey’s OWE goal is 7.5 GW by 2035; Massachusetts has an OWE goal of 5.6 GW by 2027; Connecticut has an OWE goal of 2 GW, and Virginia has an OWE goal of 5.2 GW.(8)  Some states have strategic plans—to differing levels of specificity—accompanying these goals.

In 2021, California passed legislation which tasked the California Energy Commission with preparing a strategic plan to meet the state’s long-term OWE planning goal of 25 GW in federal waters off the state’s coast by 2045. One of the required chapters in the strategic plan is the identification of suitable sea space. Other states are also working to formalize their plans for OWE in pursuit of their clean-energy goals.

In December, BOEM auctioned off five lease sites off the California coast, with the leases effective on June 1. These leases require the leaseholder to develop three communications plans: tribal, agency and fisheries. (9)  The fisheries communications plan is required to be finalized within 120 days of the lease effective date unless an extension is provided.

In April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted to send a letter to BOEM and Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek asking for the rescission of the Call Areas off the Oregon coast. (10)  This is, in part, due to conflicts between the Call Areas and Oregon’s commercial and recreational fisheries.

The PFMC further requested BOEM to restart the process off the Oregon coast, taking a more holistic approach to de-conflicting potential locations for OWE developments.  On June 9, Kotek aides sent a letter to BOEM asking “that BOEM pause its leasing process in order to provide Governor Tina Kotek’s administration with additional time to consult with Tribal governments, engage stakeholders in coastal communities and assist BOEM in identifying, understanding and responding to local concerns.” (11)

It is beyond dispute that commercial fisheries, and by association the community members dependent upon the products we supply, will be significantly impacted by OWE developments.  The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) envisions a four-step hierarchical approach to conflict resolution: avoidance, minimization, mitigation and lastly compensation. In June 2022, BOEM proffered “Draft Fisheries Mitigation Guidance.” (12)

Other efforts are underway at both the federal and state level to address compensatory mitigation to fishery participants and dependent community members who will be adversely affected.

For example, a pending California bill (SB 286) would create a (largely) fishing industry stakeholder working group charged with developing “a framework for compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts associated with offshore wind energy projects, including a payment structure to compensate commercial, tribal and recreational fisheries and impacted commercial fish processors.” (13)

A multi-state effort is also underway on the U.S. East Coast to establish a regional fund administrator for fisheries compensatory mitigation which would provide financial compensation for economic losses from offshore wind development off the Atlantic Coast.

The Need to Get Involved

Far too often we see fish harvesters just wondering what happened related to OWE activities. While the fishery you participate in may not operate in areas being considered for leasing, that does not mean your fishery, port or harbor or buyer will not be impacted. There remains so much unknown about the impacts of OWE on fisheries, fishing communities and the marine ecosystem.

Such as: Will floating OWE arrays act as functional closures to non-surface fisheries? Will development of ports and harbors to support increased traffic, vessel and otherwise, reduce dock space or fishing infrastructure within those ports and harbors?

Will development of thousands of wind turbines negatively impact upwelling, a primary driver of productivity for the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, or the Mid-Atlantic Cold Pool? Will OWE facilities disrupt larval transport, negatively impacting important commercial and recreational fish stocks?

To what degree will OWE disrupt NMFS fisheries surveys that provide the foundation for stock assessments, and thus change harvest guidelines as a result? Will marine mammals and other protected species change their migratory patterns as a result of OWE facilities such that co-occurrence with fixed gear fisheries is increased?

How will electromagnetic fields generated by OWE transmission lines impact important commercial and recreational fish stocks? What will be the cost to the consumer, including you—the shoreside processor?

Will the expected increase in imported seafood, due to reduction in domestic supply, negatively impact biodiversity? What will be the climate impacts of seafood consumption attributable to OWE developments? What is a fair and just method for compensating the fishing industry for the losses sure to result from OWE developments?

Everyone reading this has knowledge and experience that can be helpful in informing the narrative for each of those questions, and the many more which are not listed above. The best ways to stay engaged, updated and involved include joining a group (local, regional, national), participating in the process and speaking your truth.

The previously mentioned letter to BOEM from Gov. Kotek would not have happened, for instance, but for the perseverance of the fishing industry, with the way paved by PFMC’s earlier letter.   

Mike Conroy is the West Coast Director for the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA). For membership or other inquiries about RODA, contact

This guest column is presented by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and its sister organization, Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) to help keep our industry informed on these important issues. PCFFA’s website is and IFR’s website is PCFFA is also a RODA member.



1. See 

2. See 

3. NMFS maintains a public webpage which tracks all active and proposed IHAs and LOAs.  See – 

4. See 88 Fed. Reg. 37606 (table 33-pages 37663 & 37664). 




8. See 

9. Each of the five leases contains similar language.




13. See