Offshore Wind and Fishing in the Gulf of Maine
Current and historical fishing activities off the New Hampshire coast and throughout the Gulf of Maine have brought, and continue to bring, immense cultural and economic value to the New England region.
Collaborating with regional fishing industries during all phases of offshore wind development is vital to ensure the wellbeing of the state’s fishing communities. The growth of the offshore wind industry comes at a time of growing threats to fisheries. The changing climate is rapidly warming Gulf of Maine waters and carbon dioxide deposition is causing ocean acidification. Offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine will contribute to fossil fuel reduction, but it must be recognized that it may add another challenge to an already stressed fishing industry.
Protecting fisheries during offshore wind development means ensuring the protection of vital fishing grounds and transit lanes, mitigating impacts to fisheries and the marine environment, and providing just compensation to those whose livelihoods and businesses are negatively impacted. In the Gulf of Maine, siting of turbines and transmission hubs and cables, with attendant concerns about potential electromagnetic field impacts, will be a key component of responsible offshore wind development.
Fishing Access within Offshore Wind Developments
BOEM expects offshore wind energy areas to remain open and available for both commercial and recreational fishing activities. However, commercial fishermen may be unable to fish safely and effectively within offshore wind energy areas because turbine structures and associated transmission cables pose gear entanglement risks.
Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Maine involves a diversity of techniques and equipment, including the use of pots, bottom trawls, purse seines, pair trawls, dredges, and gillnets. These equipment types may be incompatible for use within offshore wind farms. Floating turbine farms may create additional restrictions due to anchoring and cabling requirements.
Because offshore wind leasing areas in the Gulf of Maine are likely to be located up to 10-40 miles offshore, fishing and lobstering in New Hampshire state waters will only be affected by transmission cables and associated vessel transit.
Left: NOAA Fisheries illustrations of commercial fishing gear: a) dredge, b) bottom trawl, c) traps/pots, d) purse seine, e) gillnet, f) midwater trawl
Right: Graph shows historical revenue (in millions) from catch caught with select gear types within the Vineyard Wind 1 Lease Area. The Vineyard Wind 1 project is the first large-scale offshore wind project in the United States to be granted federal approval in the United States. The lease area is located about 15 miles south Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts. To learn more about fishing activities that have traditionally taken place within this lease area and other offshore wind lease areas, click here.
Economic Importance of Select Gear Types within Vineyard Wind 1 Lease Area
Recreational fishing activities are less likely to be negatively impacted by offshore wind farms because typical recreational fishing equipment has a lower risk of entanglement with wind infrastructure. Offshore wind farms can actually serve as popular destinations for recreational fishing. Studies have found that offshore wind energy areas support increased numbers of fish due to the beneficial reef-like habitats created by the underwater bases of offshore wind turbines. A two-year study funded by BOEM found that recreational fishers believed that the Block Island Wind Farm functioned as an artificial reef and attracted fish. A recent peer-reviewed survey, provides further evidence that the Block Island Wind Farm a popular recreational fishing destination. Recreational anglers from Rhode Island who participated in the survey reported positive experiences and enhanced catch when fishing within the Block Island Wind Farm.
Impacts on Fisheries and Marine Ecosystems
Offshore wind can have adverse effects on habitats and wildlife near projects. Negative environmental impacts of offshore wind farms, including electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted from transmission cables and benthic habitat disturbance, may affect health of fisheries near offshore wind farms and associated transmission cables.
Ocean Safety and Navigation
Ocean safety and navigation must be considered during planning and development of offshore wind projects to protect fishers and other ocean users. Disruption to standard traffic patterns, increased vessel congestion, funneling of vessel traffic, and wind turbines themselves are some of the navigational risks posed by offshore wind development.
In an analysis of case studies from European offshore wind farms and from offshore oil and gas platforms, BOEM found that the risk of vessel collision is greatest during project construction due to increased volumes of marine traffic. During turbine construction, the U.S. Coast Guard may establish temporary exclusion zones to help mitigate collision risks. Temporary exclusion zones create buffer areas and reduce vessel congestion around turbines under construction and but are unlikely to be needed during normal operation of turbines.
Offshore wind turbines, like onshore wind turbines, may also interfere with the performance of radar systems. Because many marine vessels rely on radar systems for navigation, radar interference within wind energy areas poses potential navigational risks. Radar interference caused by both land-based and offshore wind turbines continues to be studied by a federal interagency working group.
How are fishing interests represented in BOEM's authorization process for offshore wind?
BOEM requires extensive evaluation of impacts on fisheries in its leasing process, so it offers several types of opportunities for commercial and recreational fisheries to provide input at the federal level during the offshore wind development process. In 2019, BOEM, NOAA Fisheries, and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding to further encourage effective collaborations between local and regional fishing interests and federal regulators on the science and process of offshore wind energy development.
Key opportunities for fishing communities to collaborate with federal regulators and private leaseholders are outlined below.
BOEM is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to assess the environmental impacts of proposed offshore wind development projects and to consider reasonable mitigation measures. Potential impacts of an offshore wind project on recreational and commercial fisheries are one of many issues that are analyzed during this review. Opportunities for public involvement are offered during the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review
Development of Required Lessee Plans
BOEM requires that offshore wind developers holding leases in the Outer Continental Shelf prepare and submit a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) and Construction and Operations Plan (COP). These plans describe how the lessee will conduct natural resource assessment activities, construction activities, commercial operations, and decommissioning of their proposed offshore wind project. Lessees are required to demonstrate effective communications with relevant fisheries within and Plans often designate fishery representatives and liaisons to facilitate communications between lease holders and commercial fishery partners. Negotiations between members of the fishing industry and leaseholders during this step play an important role in mitigating disruption to fishing activities. Active can be accessed through BOEM’s “Lease and Grant Information” webpage. Learn more about BOEM’s stakeholder engagement requirements for leaseholders here and about best management practices and mitigation guidelines to reduce fishery disruption here.
Because offshore wind projects have the potential to disrupt existing marine transportation patterns and traffic separation schemes, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is required by the Ports and Waterways Safety Act (PWSA) to conduct a Port Access Route Study (PARS) prior to the approval of an offshore wind project. The USCG may make recommendations for turbine siting, spacing, orientation, and temporary safety zones based on the findings of a Port Access Route Study. Public comment periods held during Port Access Route Studies offer opportunities to provide feedback on siting and spacing of offshore wind turbines. A recent Port Access Route Study was conducted for offshore wind lease areas located in federal waters south of Massachusetts and east of Rhode Island. Learn more about the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study.
Port Access Route Studies
How does the NH Commission collaborate with fisheries?
Recognizing the value that the fishing industry’s expertise brings to the offshore wind development process, the legislation that established the Commission to Study Offshore Wind and Port Development (RSA:374-F:10) included substantial representation from the industry and environmental groups. The Commission is collaborating with New Hampshire’s commercial fishing community, the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, New Hampshire Sea Grant, Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), and the New England Fishery Management Council, among others, to examine how offshore wind development might affect the Gulf of Maine. The Commission reserves two seats for members of the New Hampshire commercial fishing community to ensure that its perspectives are represented in the Commission’s activities. Commercial and recreational members of fishing communities are also encouraged to attend the NH Commission’s public meetings to provide input about the Commission’s activities.
Additionally, the Commission has established a committee to study the impacts that offshore wind development could have on commercial and recreational fishing activities in the Gulf of Maine. This committee will make recommendations on appropriate accommodations and protections for fisheries and marine habitat.
Protecting Fisheries: Case Studies
Learn more about actions that have been taken to protect Atlantic fisheries during offshore wind development
Moratorium on New Offshore Wind Projects in Maine State Waters
In July of 2021, Maine passed legislation that prohibits new offshore wind development in ocean waters managed by the State of Maine. This legislation was introduced by Governor Janet Mills’ Administration in response to concerns raised by Maine’s fishing industry.
Photo credit: Mike Ross, UNH Photographic Services
Mapping Tools and Data Resources for Fisheries
Mapping and data tools are available to help visualize economically important fishing areas and other ocean features. These tools can help inform decision-makers and stakeholders during the process of offshore wind development.
NOAA’s Fishing Footprints project offers a database of fishing activity maps that utilize over 20 years of fishing data for the Northeast. In-depth assessments of current offshore wind lease areas and the economic value they hold for commercial and recreational fishing are also made available by NOAA.
For comprehensive explorations of physical, biological, socioeconomic, and cultural ocean features, the MarineCadastre.gov, NOAA’s Northeast Socioeconomic Data Products and the Northeast Ocean Data Portal offer interactive tools with a wealth of data.