State Will Study Fish, Birds And Fishermen To Help Wind Farm Planning

Fishermen unloading the catch from a commercial fishing boat at Shinnecock Fish Dock in Hampton Bays.

New York State’s renewable energy agency will direct some $2 million over the next three years to a suite of environmental studies intended to forecast the effects of offshore wind farm construction in the waters off the Eastern Seaboard.

The studies will focus on the possible effects on migratory fish and bird species, and to help craft the energy development so that fishermen can continue to fish in the regions where the wind farms are built.

Five studies to be funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, or NYSERDA, will focus on surveying and monitoring fish and bird species that live in or transit the areas where the turbines will be built, and on how the activities of fishermen in those areas can be accommodated.

One three-year study will compile data about the distribution and movements of fish species through the New York Bight and southern New England regions of the continental shelf. Another will look at how bird species track migrating forage fish species. And a third will use electronic transmitters to track bird and bat species in and around the wind farms.
Two more studies will focus on commercial fishermen themselves, who have proven to be the most strident objectors to the idea of constructing wind farms in the ocean.

One will explore ways to help fishermen continue fishing in the seas between and around the wind turbines, once they are built, and the other will work with fishermen to build a “data trust” using the seasoned fishermen’s personal knowledge and records to help place and design turbine arrays.

“As New York becomes the national epicenter for the U.S. offshore wind industry, we continue to undertake evidence-based environmental and commercial fishing-related research to help us advance offshore wind development in a way that is sensitive to the environment, ocean and the economy,” Alicia Barton, the president of NYSERDA, said in a statement from the agency. “These projects expand our efforts to mitigate potential impacts of offshore wind energy development and will help protect the state’s coastal resources and marine environment, ensuring these resources can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Fishermen have raised a long catalog of concerns, both environmental and practical, about what they have dubbed the “industrialization” of the fertile waters off Long Island and southern New England.

New York State is directing $2 million to studies of fish stocks in the regions of the ocean where massive new offshore wind farms are planned, and to working out ways commercial fishermen can continue to fish in their midst once they are built.

From the fear that the noise, vibrations or electromagnetic pulses from the construction and operation of hundreds of 600-foot-tall turbines and miles of underwater electrical cables will have on the migratory patterns of the fish they hunt, to safety worries about rare-earth minerals used in the machines interfering with radar signals that could make the steel structures hard to detect in fog or at night, fishermen have said the quickly mushrooming plans for erecting wind farms at sea should be examined much more closely.

The most outspoken local voice on behalf of fishermen has been Bonnie Brady, director of the Long Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association. The studies announced this week by NYSERDA are a good place to start, she said, but need more time and focus to flesh out what could be the real effects of the sudden appearance of hundreds of industrial machines anchored in the ocean.

“All this is better than nothing, and it’s an okay place to start, but we should be doing five years of baseline studies, at least, before they put these things in,” Ms. Brady said this week. “We’re talking about hundreds of miles of transmission cables out there, and we haven’t done any real studies about the effects of [electromagnetic frequencies]. They aren’t looking at the effects of the pile-driving on squid and scup and whiting and ling that are in those areas.”

The developers of the South Fork Wind Farm expect to start construction of the 15 turbines by the end of next year and to have the turbines operational by 2022. Much larger projects in the same region of the ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have similar construction time frames for nearly 200 additional turbines.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in the public comments to the State Public Service Commission, which is reviewing the application for the South Fork Wind Farm’s connection to Long Island, that the studies done so far as part of the wind farm application do not adequately detail the precise species of fish and other marine species that exist in the area where the turbines are to be built and how they may be affected by the placement of the wind farm and its connection to land.