I believe ocean wind farms have been, and will be, good for fishing if developed responsibly. Yet with fishers vying for mitigation, the dialogue has become skewed and it needs to be more balanced.
For example, a recent NPR Rhode Island public radio forum on ocean wind farms, fishing and climate change had no recreational fishers on the panel. Yet there were three commercial representatives — one from fisheries, a commercial regulatory person and a commercial fisheries scientist.
Wind farm pylons create habitat, much the same way that reefs do. A few months after the wind turbine pylons were installed at the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF), the mussel growth was thick around the pylons. When divers videotaped activity at the base of the pylons, there were bait fish feeding on pylon growth, small scup and sea bass eating the bait and then large striped bass and bluefish on the perimeter waiting to pick off the smaller fish.
Fishing at Block Island was good before the wind farm was built and it is still good, arguably better. Because the wind farm is a fishing destination and easy to find, if there were 20 boats fishing before construction, today there are 60 vessels fishing (anecdotally that’s 300 percent more pressure). So with added pressure, the fishing is still good.
I attended the Southern New England Offshore Wind Energy Science Forum held at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography almost two years ago. Fifty scientists presented their research on the BIWF. There were (and are) no remarkable adverse effects on fish, habitat or abundance from the study reports I heard on acoustics, habitat, fish trawl surveys, electromagnetics, etc. Much of this research has continued.
Commercial trawlers fish parallel right alongside the BIWF, fixed gear traps and nets that are set right up to the wind farm. Commercial rod and reel fishermen are there fishing by my side, and there are an abundance of private anglers as well as party and charter boats fishing in the area too. All are there for a reason. There is an abundance of fish in the area.
Fishing and ocean wind farms are getting along just fine at the Block Island Wind Farm.
Anglers for Offshore Wind Power
Anglers for Offshore Wind Power (AFOW) believe that climate change is having a profound effect on fish, habitat and fishing and support responsible wind farm development.
Last week, I was invited to an AFOW public forum in New Jersey. Seventy anglers, fishing club leaders, environmental and community leaders attended the Forked River, New Jersey event. An 84-turbine wind farm off Atlantic City developed by Orsted North America is the first development that will be built off the N.J. coast.
The objective of the meeting was to share the science-based approach being used to plan and build ocean wind farms. I shared my/our experience fishing the Block Island Wind Farm, as it is the only farm in existence in the US. The group was encouraged to get engaged and provide developers with input and feedback, as they conduct research before, during and after construction.
For more information on the group’s efforts, go to www.anglersforoffshorewind.org.
I also attended an Orsted Ocean Wind farm open house in Waretown, N.J., last week. About 160 area fishermen and residents attended that meeting, which was one of three that took place along the Jersey shore.
The anglers, community residents and environmental advocates I met at these two meetings were all positive about offshore wind, as long it is developed responsibly.
This is the part of the story that is not getting through — many are talking about possible negative cumulative impacts of multiple turbines. I say, what about possible positive cumulative impacts on fishing and communities?
Public hearing on regulations
In Massachusetts, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has scheduled public hearings and a public-comment period to solicit feedback on proposed changes to commercial and recreational fishing limits to be implemented during the spring. These proposed regulations include recreational bluefish and striped bass as well as commercial striped bass, black sea bass, summer flounder and several others.
Visit www.mass.gov/doc/020720-winter-omnibus-public-hearing/download for regulation details and how to submit comments. Hearings are to take place March 10 at 6 p.m. at Coolidge Middle School, 89 Birch Meadow Drive, Reading; March 12 at 9:30 a.m. at Tisbury Town Hall, Katharine Cornell Theater, 51 Spring Street, Vineyard Haven; and March 12 at 6 p.m. at Maritime Academy Admiral’s Hall, 101 Academy Drive Buzzards Bay.
In Rhode Island, a public hearing was held Monday by DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries on proposed recreation and commercial fishing regulations at the URI Bay Campus.
Comments were taken on regulation options for 2020 on scup, black sea bass, summer flounder, tautog, striped bass and bluefish. Commercial regulations on tautog and striped bass will also be reviewed.
Many of the regulations being proposed had little state of RI discretion as harvest limits have been set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) that manages fish coastwide in state waters 0 to 3 miles from shore.
Striped bass regulations options were the highlight of the meeting as input was sought on the 28 inches-to-35 inches ASMFC approved slot limit option that New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts are expected to follow as well as two conservation equivalency options proposed by Rhode Island. RI has proposed a conservation equivalency option of 32 to less than 40 inches option for all modes and then a split mode of 32 to less than 40 inches for private anglers with a For Hire (party and charter boat) limit of one fish from 30 to less than 40.
Comments were spirited, with charter captains at the meeting vying for the split-mode option and recreational anglers opting for the 28 to less than 35 inches option for all modes for consistency with neighboring states and to keep charter and private angler regulations the same.
All regulation options with public hearing comments now get moved forward to the RI Marine Fisheries Council for their regulation recommendations and after that all comments, the department’s recommendations, the Council’s recommendations all go to DEM Director Janet Coit to finalize 2020 fishing regulations.
For copies of the agenda and presentation that were used at the public hearing and how to submit comments via email, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/marine-fisheries/rimfc/index.php.
Where’s the bite?
Freshwater fishing at ponds that do not have ice has been good. Anglers are catching bass, trout and salmon. Not much ice fishing in Rhode Island, as the ponds are not frozen and the thin ice that is there handicaps shore anglers. “With high winds and no solid ice, fishing last week was off, not many anglers ventured out.” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle in Riverside.
Saltwater cod fishing is still your best saltwater bet, that and digging a few quahogs close to shore. Mild weather has allowed recreational shellfishermen to dig for quahogs. There is nothing like the taste of a fresh winter quahog in February.