Offshore Wind Farm

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations Rhode Island Saltwater Fishing

First U.S. offshore wind farm Now Online in Rhode Island Waters

By: Julia Livermore, RIDEM Marine Section

Construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF), is complete and all turbines are now online. The 5-turbine wind farm is situated in Rhode Island state waters, approximately three miles southeast of Block Island. Project siting was orchestrated through the 2010 Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP) stakeholder engagement process, facilitated by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center on behalf of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. The BIWF will supply more than enough energy to meet Block Island’s needs; excess energy will enter the mainland electrical grid through a submarine cable, helping the state to meet its Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 goal to reduce greenhouse gas by 85% by 2050.

Deepwater Wind contractors and staff at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM) Division of Fish and Wildlife are independently monitoring the ecological impacts of the wind farm on the marine environment. Data are collected monthly at the area of potential impact (near the wind farm construction site) and at control sites through a trawl survey and a ventless lobster survey; the trawl survey is conducted year-round, while the lobster survey takes place six months per year. These data are being collected as part of a before-after-control-impact (BACI) study to evaluate the marine system effects of offshore wind development in the Northeast to inform possible development of larger wind energy projects in the region and to minimize potential environmental impacts.

The ecological and fishery impacts of offshore wind development in the Northwest Atlantic are largely unknown, as no offshore wind development projects have occurred in North America prior to the BIWF. The BIWF is located within essential fish habitat for over 20 species of interest to the region. The presence of wind turbine foundations will increase the amount of hard substrate in the area and may serve as an artificial reef. However, negative impacts to marine species are also possible. Past offshore wind research endeavors have addressed the effects of construction noise on the behavior of marine mammals and fish, habitat loss, the influences of electricity generation and electromagnetic field disruption, and the dispersion of sediment, but a knowledge gap exists regarding potential changes in the local community structure or species abundances during and after the construction of offshore wind farms. The BACI study of the BIWF has been designed to help fill these gaps concerning possible changes to the local environment as a result of fixed turbine foundation construction and operation.

Data from the BACI study, combined with long-term RI DEM survey data and fishery-dependent data, will also be used to evaluate impacts to local fisheries. In 2012, the state’s recreational fishery supplied 1,794 jobs and $192 million in total sales. Thus, Rhode Island’s recreational fishing activity constitutes a significant portion of the state’s economy and contributes significantly to the Ocean State’s culture. Future BIWF impact research aims to address questions about possible effects on recreational fishing: for example, 1) Have abundances of recreationally important species changed as the result of the wind farm? 2) Has the proportion of legally harvestable fish changed? 3) How has the ecological community structure changed, if at all? 4) Has recreational catch near the wind farm changed?

For more information, please contact Julia Livermore at julia.livermore@dem.ri.gov.