Wind farm development is moving forward. Two to three hundred wind turbines are planned to be erected in some of the most fertile fishing grounds for recreational (and commercial) fishing in Southern New England. Three firms have secured leases to build wind farms in federal waters between Block Island and Nantucket. One of the wind farms is scheduled to be built on and around the fertile fishing grounds of Cox Ledge, about 20 miles southeast of Point Judith.
This week, I was invited to a workshop titled “Offshore Renewable Energy Development and Fisheries” by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on behalf of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The two-day workshop was held at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford. BOEM commissioned the Academy of Sciences to hold the workshop to garner input on what types of fisheries research might be needed to plan the projects.
I was the only recreational representative at the workshop that I could identify. About 150 people attended, including scientists, commercial fishermen and organizations, Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials and NOAA administrators.
My panel addressed the fish species and the fishing communities that would be impacted by four lease areas in federal waters off Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York. The panel had five commercial fishing industry representatives on it. Deepwater Wind New England LLC (the developer of the Block Island wind farm) holds the lease for Cox Ledge area and Bay Sate Wind LLC and Offshore MW LLC hold leases for two other southeast areas.
The recreational fishing community should take a deeper interest in wind farm development. Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association said, “Cox’s Ledge is like a mini George’s Bank to fishermen. Recreational anglers target ground fish such as cod, tautog, and black sea bass there but bluefin tuna [both school and giants], yellowfin tuna and sharks are also often fished there.”
Most of the species fished by recreational anglers have not been surveyed in this area. The point was made that trawl surveys are not enough.
These wind farms will be the topic of much discussion in the future because the impact on fishing is unclear. The bottom line is that BOEM will now have fishing industry and academia input on what should be included in a research plan before, during and after construction. Now it is time to develop the plan and for the fishing community to reengage on wind farm development.
Here are some comments from the workshop that caught my attention.
Anna Malek Mercer, of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation in Rhode Island said, “A study we completed recently showed that the industry feels that three years of baseline data are needed before we start to build these wind farms.” Many at the conference suggested as much as seven years of baseline data was needed, the federal fisheries requirement for many species managed federally.
Vincent Guida, a NOAA scientist who studied four species that live in the wind farm lease area said, “Cox Ledge has gravel and rock on parts of its bottom.” This suggests we should explore using other methods to survey in addition to trawl surveys.
“Our vessels can’t fish in a windfarm array. Some of our larger vessels have a trawl tow that extends as much as a half mile. Our captains are already trying to avoid areas that can snag nets on wrecks, natural structure and if they have to negotiate wind farm pylons and bases and submarine cable concrete caps they won’t be able to fish without losing gear. A large net can cost as much as $50,000 to replace.” said Meghan Lapp of Seafreeze Ltd, North Kingstown, RI.
“We spent a lot of time locating the Block Island wind farm. We started in 2008 with the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and the wind farm was not operational until 2016… The father you go offshore the greater the wind, however, add geology and fishery factors into the equation and the sweet spot for the Block Island wind farm was about three miles off the south/southeast side of the Island where the wind farm is located. The new proposed sites can utilize the same model we just have to put in predetermined criteria.” said Malcom Spaulding of the University of Rhode Island.
Mike Cohen who manages the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations and the Holderness Fishing Cooperative in the United Kingdom (where ocean wind farms have been developed for years now), said , “You are in a good position here in the United States to impact wind projects with baseline data before they are built. I heard as much as three to seven years of data. We had no baseline data to speak of in the UK. Just one year of a study done on one of our many projects. We are envious of you. You are trying to plan the right way.”
At press time the conference input is still being processed, however, the bottom line is that BOEM will now have fishing industry and academia input on what should be included in a research plan before, during and after construction.
Now it is time to develop the plan and for the fishing community to reengage on wind farm development.
Where’s the bite?
Tautog. “Customers are catching tautog in low water off Pt. Judith and off Newport,” said Matt Conti, of Snug Harbor Marina in South Kingstown. The water is now starting to cool off a bit and the tautog bite seems to have improved. “The Island Current party boat limited out three days last week. We weighed in some nine pound fish and then a ten pound fish on Saturday, Conti said. Capt. Frank Blount, of the Frances Fleet, said, “Black fishing has greatly improved. By the end of the week it was as good as it gets. Many anglers catching limits of tautog to over nine pounds.” Ken Ferrara, of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, said, “We’re finding that the Bay is still strong for tautog fishing with customers catching tautog to nine pounds at General Rock in North Kingstown.” John Littlefield, of Archie’s Bait & Tackle in Riverside, said, “We had a customer catch some nice keepers at the Wharf Tavern. When they arrived one angler near them had landed four nice keepers.”
Striped bass, bluefish, false albacore. “School striped bass are being landed at Sabin’s Point with anglers using Storm Shad with success.” said Littlefield. I continue to have luck fishing with a Yo-Zuri Crystal minnow with a fast retrieve from my dock in Wickford Cove. Noted shore angler and author Steve McKenna said, “Fishing from shore for striped bass has been great. Since September I have landed about 300 striped bass.” Conti said, “Block Island is loaded with blue fish, anglers are using jigs to try to catch striped bass, but the blue fish are making it difficult. The false albacore are still here with a great bite from Watch Hill, along the coast and up into Narragansett Bay.” Littlefield said, “Customers Al and Kevin Bettencourt have been landing keeper bass to 16 pounds fishing with eels at night, drifting in the Warren River.”
Cod fishing has not been good. Anglers fishing for cod at Cox’ Ledge, Shark Ledge and at the East Grounds are having difficulty hooking up with cod; however, the black sea bass they are catching have been large.
Freshwater. The state Department of Environmental Management stocked ponds statewide with 4,000 trout in advance of Veterans Day. The stocked areas include: Barber Pond, South Kingstown; Carolina Trout Pond, Richmond; Carbuncle Pond, Coventry; Meadowbrook Pond, Richmond; Olney Pond, Lincoln; Silver Spring Lake, North Kingstown; Wyoming Pond, Hopkinton; Wood River in Exeter (Barberville), Hope Valley (Dow Memorial Field), Hopkinton (Mechanic Street and Horseshoe Dam), Richmond (Alton Pond); Deep Pond for fly-fishing only, Exeter; Pawcatuck River, Hopkinton (Bradford) and Charleston (Lower Shannock Brook). Carbuncle Pond, Olney Pond, Silver Spring Lake and Lower Shannock Brook offer universal fishing access for disabled anglers. For daily updates on stocking locations visit dem.ri.gov.
Capt. Monti has been fishing and shell fishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.
Courtesy of Providence Journal by Dave Monti