By Mark Nero, Managing Editor
Offshore wind energy development is something that has piqued the interest of quite a few in the maritime industry over the past several months, partly because in late June the Biden Administration announced plans to open a number of areas off the California coast to offshore wind development.
The issue is so imperative that there’s an article devoted to it in the August edition of Fishermen’s News magazine, including comments from representatives of the commercial fishing community.
And although the various concerns about the feds’ proposal are legitimate and completely warranted, it’s worth noting that on the other side of the country, offshore wind energy has been up and running for years, and has apparently not harmed fishing as some thought it would. In fact, according to studies, it has seemed to actually help improve fishing in the area.
According to one study undertaken by the University of Rhode Island (URI), the country’s first offshore wind array – the Block Island Wind Farm, which went in operation in late 2016 and is located off the coast of Rhode Island – has become a popular area for recreational fishing.
How? Why? Well, according to the study, which was published in 2019, many anglers believe the bases of the five, 6-megawatt wind turbines that make up the wind farm are acting as an artificial reef. So said the study’s principal investigator, David Bidwell, an assistant professor of marine affairs at URI.
“There’s been a lot of focus on the views of the commercial fishing side toward offshore wind,” Bidwell said, according to a November, 2019 article by journalist Lisa Prevost on the Energy News Network website. “But understanding how recreational anglers interact with this new industry is important because recreational fishing is important to the economy and quality of life in coastal communities.”
In focus groups conducted as part of one study, recreational anglers spoke positively about fishing conditions around the turbines, including a spearfisher who told researchers that the underwater support structure for the turbines was “loaded” with mussels and crustaceans, and was attracting scup, mahi-mahi and striped bass.
Rich Hittinger of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association told Energy News Network that he’s fished within a half mile of the turbines at least 50 times. The area had been a good fish habitat before the turbines went in, and remained so afterward, he said.
“Our bottom-line impression is that those five turbines are not causing any kind of a negative effect,” Hittinger remarked. “And they may be causing a slight positive affect. For example, there are a lot of black sea bass around those turbine bases. I’m sure they’re there because the bases are totally encrusted with mussels and other small organisms.”
So, while there aren’t many direct parallels between the four-and-a-half-year-old Block Island Wind Farm in the Atlantic Ocean and the potential opening up of offshore wind farms in the Pacific, the point is that when it comes to Mother Nature, you never know what to expect.
Although there’s a chance that any future wind array could be a bane to the West Coast commercial fishing industry, there’s also the possibility that wind arrays could also have some sort of positive effect on the marine ecosystem, resulting in various species of fish spawning in greater numbers.
Just some food for thought.
Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org