Rhode Island Saltwater Fishing
What have we learned about fishing around the Block Island Wind Farm?
By Julia Livermore, Supervising Marine Biologist, RI DEM Division of Marine Fisheries
As offshore wind development ramps up in Southern New England waters, and in the United States in general, it is a logical to take a step back from new development and consider what was learned from the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF). The Deepwater Wind project, involving five six-megawatt turbines off Block Island’s southeastern shore, served as an ideal pilot project on which to base a variety of research specific to the region. Studies have been conducted on the biology of the area and on the commercial and recreational fisheries operating nearby; two Rhode Island Sea Grant research projects focused directly on impacts to the fishing industry.
One such project sought to learn how the BIWF and its corresponding electricity transmission system to the mainland have affected the marine community and how marine resource users’ perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors were affected by potential impacts. This study involved analysis of data collected by Deepwater Wind, LLC-contracted scientists and fishermen via an otter trawl survey and a ventless lobster pot survey. To date, limited environmental changes have been detected through analysis of those data sources. However, interviews with recreational and commercial fishermen revealed that there are conflicting views on this topic. Some respondents felt that there was limited to no impact on fisheries, while other respondents felt that there was a reduction of fish in the area during construction. Certain fishers noted the following: more recreational fishing in the area than before the BIWF; foundations acting as an artificial reef; creation of new habitat by mussels on the turbine foundations; and attraction of cod to the area. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Marine Fisheries (RIDEM DMF) will continue to analyze data collected at the BIWF for two more years’ worth of monitoring and attempt to investigate some of these perceptions where the data allow.
A second, ongoing study is investigating recreational fishing around the BIWF with the goal of understanding the experience of anglers fishing at or near the wind farm and how the regional angling community perceives the wind farm and its impacts. This project kicked off in 2018 with interviews of recreational fishers in Rhode Island. In 2019, surveys will be sent to 2,500 saltwater anglers who live or fish in Rhode Island in hopes of capturing input from both in-state and out-of-state anglers. If you receive one of these surveys, please tell us about your fishing experience. As we prepare for more offshore wind development, we need your direct input to learn how the BIWF has affected the recreational fishing industry.
Findings from both studies will be considered during the permitting and review process of larger scale projects. While the BIWF provides a great base for our understanding of effects of wind farms in the region, the scale of future projects will be much larger and effects may therefore be different. Further research and long-term, comprehensive monitoring will be needed to understand potential environmental and fishing effects, as there are currently limited data available for this part of the world. The RIDEM is committed to working with the fishing community to improve data collection and decision-making on these projects. If you have questions about wind development effects or recommendations for future research, please contact Julia Livermore (firstname.lastname@example.org; 401.423.1937). Refer to the Rhode Island Sea Grant website for more details on both projects.