The unseen benefit of the wind turbines

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 7:15am
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The newly-formed fisheries around the Block Island Wind Farm are starting to yield some impressive results, as seen in these photos by Hank Hewitt.

As we witness the growth of offshore wind farms, there seems to be a benefit to them not readily apparent to most, yet known to anglers. The benefit of these installations is a term anglers refer to as structure. Structure comes in many different forms, yet has the same effect: it attracts marine life. Structure can be anything from boulders on the bottom, to a change in ground contour, to docks and pilings, among other things. These are essentially areas of change in the water column. A dock system with pilings is structure most readily apparent to anyone who spends time around a marina. You just need to look at a dock piling to see how it collects mussels, which create areas for shrimp and crabs, which in turn brings around small fish that eat them, and ultimately will attract larger predator fish. Structure also creates shade, a break from strong current and, ultimately, an ambush point for hungry, larger fish.

For the sake of this discussion, a wind turbine platform functions like dock pilings, and builds life, thus becoming a manmade artificial reef. These installations are often placed on flat, structureless bottom topographies in deep water. Their presence attracts a myriad of life, jump-starts the food chain, and builds a life-filled environment where one previously didn’t exist. For many years, oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico have had this same effect and helped various populations of fish species that were highly over-fished to thrive. There is also an initiative in Hawaii where F.A.D.’s (Fish Aggregating Devices), which are essentially just buoys on long lengths of line anchored to the bottom in deep water, are being implemented. What they do is create fishing opportunities for species such as tuna and mahi mahi, by creating structure that attracts forage fish species. It’s highly effective.

As we move on, and take into account fisheries degredations because of pollution, and the overfishing of various historic, structural areas, it starts to become readily apparent that a wind turbine platform, especially with multiple turbines in one area, will create a suitable habitat to help multiple species of structure-oriented fish to thrive, as well as offering anglers greater options to fish — as opposed to constantly having to pound the same, often limited structural areas. For instance, one of the most popular areas to fish for striped bass, in all of New England, is the South West Ledge of Block Island. The area is a magnet for the best and largest stripers every season. The “Ledge” is also often a slaughtering ground and may be packed with over 100 boats on any given summer weekend. Now, with the introduction of the wind turbines, we see five new artificial reefs that are approximately 5.5 nautical miles to the east of the ledge. These wind turbines will attract stripers in their vicinity, to the same degree that the Ledge does. So their presence will help spread angling participation out, along with the striper population, and take some of the burden off the Ledge.

Last, in looking at this often-unseen benefit of offshore wind farms is the economic benefit it presents to the recreational angling industry, primarily for charter fishing boat captains. Many seasoned anglers are well aware of the angling opportunity these wind farm towers will create. Under one turbine it will be possible to catch a multitude of  fish species that otherwise wouldn’t be grouped so closely together. We have already been getting calls inquiring about fishing trips to exclusively target the wind farm of the southeast side of the island. Much of this potential business may not have materialized if not for the known value, among the angling community, of this type of structure.

So the next time you look at the Block Island Wind Farm, and as you form your assessment of the positive and negative arguments about them, please take into account their structural, unseen benefits to the aquatic ecosystem around Block Island.