Wind turbines and fish co-existing, so far

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:15am

It seems as though the foundations of the Block Island Wind Farm and maritime life can not only co-exist, but perhaps even flourish, together.

That was the message conveyed by Deepwater Wind and the American Wind Energy Association during a webinar with journalists held on Feb. 14.  A video that played during the call included testimonials from recreational fishermen and footage of fish feeding at the base of one of the Block Island Wind Farm’s 110-foot tall steel turbine foundations, which have created an artificial reef teeming with marine life.

The video is the brainchild of Stephanie McClellan, Director of the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, who said, “There’s a frenzy of fish and other marine life making a new home near the Block Island turbine foundations, which act as artificial reefs. U.S. energy consumers and workers aren’t the only ones excited to see offshore wind come to American shores. Marine life is thriving, as studies confirm.”

The AWEA noted in a press release that a recent study from Europe, where hundreds of offshore wind turbines are installed, found that a single turbine can support up to four metric tons of shellfish, which in turn attracts fish to the area. (For more information, visit

In attendance during the webinar were Block Island fishing charter captain Chris Hobe, Aileen Kenney, Deepwater Wind’s Vice President of Permitting and Environmental Affairs, Nancy Sopko, Director, Offshore Wind and Federal Legislative Affairs for AWEA, and Joe Martens, Director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance. Featured in the AWEA video were Hobe, and Chris Willi, who is also an Island charter-fishing captain, and New Shoreham Town Council member.

Nancy Sopko said McClellan’s video footage “tells the story of how fish coexist with the Block Island Wind Farm.” She said the Wind Farm’s foundations aid this coexistence, and are a benefit to recreational fishing, and a boon to the Island community.

At the Southern New England Offshore Wind Science Forum at University of Rhode Island in December, which Deepwater Wind sponsored with the Coastal Resources Management Council, Chris Brown, President of the state’s Commercial Fishermen’s Association expressed concerns regarding potential displacement of fish species and habitats. Recreational fishing near the Block Island Wind Farm may be thriving, but the bigger question concerns how installation of offshore wind turbines and their cables will impact the commercial fishing industry.

Aileen Kenney, who spearheaded Deepwater Wind’s permitting process, said that a lot went into determining the proper siting of the Block Island Wind Farm, and included input from fishermen and stakeholders. Kenney said Deepwater Wind, the wind farm’s developer, has been stressing a public outreach philosophy designed around communicating with the fishing community to address their concerns.

“Lessons learned from the Block Island Wind Farm will be applied to future projects,” said Kenney. “We believe that the fishing community and the offshore wind business can coexist.”

Joe Martens said the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has conducted 19 studies on the subject and is aware of concerns coming from the fishing community. He noted that communication between the developers and commercial fishermen should help inform the industry’s decision-making process moving forward.

“There are design considerations put into place that we will build on moving forward,” said Kenney, noting that while the Block Island Wind Farm’s turbines are spaced half a mile apart, the wind turbines of future projects will be sited further apart “for safe transit through the wind farm area.”

Kenney said URI and Roger Williams University are conducting research studies regarding the impact of the turbine foundations on marine life under the direction of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM and URI worked jointly to create the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, which was instrumental in siting the Block Island Wind Farm three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island.

As for Willi, he said in the video that his concern was whether the Wind Farm was “going to restrict any fishing: recreational, commercial or otherwise? Those concerns, as they played out, from my perspective, really diminished greatly as time went on.” Willi noted that he now sees the “benefit to the structures in the water from a fishing perspective.”  

Hobe said that during the charter season he “was taking people out to the Wind Farm almost every day. Even though I wasn’t out there to fish, I’m always scanning the bottom, and it’s clear there are a lot of fish active at the Wind Farm. People never used to fish that spot before the turbines, and now it’s really popular.”

While the relationship between the Block Island Wind Farm and the local fishing community may be going smoothly, it has not been quite as rosy during the early stages of a newer project, the South Fork Wind Farm, a 15-turbine project proposed for Long Island. According to reports in the Long Island press, Deepwater Wind had held more than a dozen meetings with Long island fishermen by January, and still had yet to convince those fishermen that there would be any benefit to them from the development of the Wind Farm. It was reported in the East End Beacon on Feb. 18 that a new fishing liaison had been hired by Deepwater Wind to work with members of the fishing community.

“Deepwater Wind, the developers of the first U.S. offshore Wind Farm off Block Island, is planning to build a 90 megawatt, 15-turbine wind farm about 36 miles off the coast of Montauk, and has been meeting with local fishermen and the East Hampton Town Trustees in an attempt to build trust with the local fishing community. But those conversations have turned testy in recent months, as scientific studies of fish populations in the area of the turbines and the proposed electric cable landing site in Wainscott are just beginning, and no one from the Montauk fishing community has agreed to work with the company on behalf of fishermen,” the East End Beacon article stated.

The AWEA video can be found at: