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Latest Federal Report on Offshore Wind Pays ‘Insufficient Attention’ to Overall Impacts, SCEMFIS Researchers Find

Tuesday, 28 July 2020 02:55 PM

Science Center for Marine Fisheries

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS / ACCESSWIRE / July 28, 2020 / A new report released last week by the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS) found that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) "paid insufficient attention" to the total impact of offshore wind beyond the proposed Vineyard Wind project in its latest environmental report. SCEMFIS researchers also found that BOEM failed to address the scope and scale of offshore wind's impacts on fisheries surveys beyond categorizing them as "major."

BOEM released its supplement to the draft environmental impact statement (SEIS) last month for the Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts. The SEIS sought to analyze the cumulative impacts of every reasonably foreseeable offshore wind development on the U.S. East Coast in the coming years.

"In the case of the present SEIS, one cannot evaluate the total impact of the proposed development of the Mid-Atlantic Bight as insufficient attention is paid to the impact beyond the Vineyard Wind project, whereas the cumulative impact is the issue of greatest concern," the SCEMFIS team wrote. While the SEIS analysis is "extensive across potentially affected resources," its frequent "lack of detail" is a weakness, they wrote.

The most important direct economic impact of offshore wind on fisheries could be the impact of turbine placement on stock assessments, the SCEMFIS report found. Surveys are unlikely to be conducted in wind areas, in which case it is assumed that no stock exists there. This would likely lead to quota reductions, especially due to increased uncertainty in the assessments, and the resulting long-term effects would not be able to be resolved by a single-year compensation plan.

While the SEIS correctly categorized such impacts as "major," the SCEMFIS team wrote, "it does not address the scale and scope of these impacts." The SEIS also seemed to overlook potential changes in vessel transit routes that make certain areas no longer profitable to fish, the team wrote.

The biggest indirect threat to fisheries is a likely increase in marine mammal entanglements in and near wind areas, according to the SCEMFIS report. This could result from an increased density of fishing gear due to a reduction in available fishing areas and a new source of entanglements from offshore wind construction and operations that could be mistakenly attributed to fisheries. Greater threats to marine mammals would lead to greater limitations on fishermen, and the SEIS should have classified these impacts as "major" instead of "moderate," the researchers wrote.

There are also several potential environmental impacts from offshore wind that the SEIS did not adequately explore, the SCEMFIS team found. For instance, the SEIS considered impacts on the ecologically important "cold pool" of water that extends seasonally off the U.S. East Coast but only focused on impacts during some parts of the year. Seasonally, this region experiences one of the largest transitions in ocean stratification of anywhere in the world. Weakening the cold pool could help generate "the most catastrophic ecological event on the continental shelf the world has ever seen," the researchers wrote, so great care must be taken to show the chance of an impact from offshore wind is "vanishingly small." Such science is not present in the SEIS, they wrote.

Additionally, the SEIS mentioned climate change "without coming to grips with the seriousness of the problem," according to the SCEMFIS team. While the SEIS considered the current state of resources in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, it failed to adequately consider changes in species and fishing distribution that are likely to continue as a result of climate change, the team wrote.

In total, the SCEMFIS report found the Vineyard Wind SEIS needed further work on eight key issues: the totality of impact across the Mid-Atlantic, physical oceanographic processes, climate change, adequacy of the database on finfish and benthic invertebrates, long-lived biota, fishing/surveys/stock assessments, marine mammals, and economics.

The report was written by Eric Powell (University of Southern Mississippi), Andrew Scheld (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), Pat Sullivan (Cornell University), Josh Kohut (Rutgers University), Thomas Grothues (Rutgers University), Daphne Munroe (Rutgers University), Paula Moreno (EcoMarine Integrated Analytics, LLC), and Gavin Fay (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth). The scientific results and conclusions of this report, as well as any views or opinions expressed, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the SCEMFIS Industry Advisory Board, member companies, VIMS, USM, NOAA, or the Department of Commerce. The report can be found on the SCEMFIS website here.

Press Contact:
Bob Vanasse
Stove Boat Communications
(202) 333-2628
[email protected]

The Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS) utilizes academic and fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. SCEMFIS develops methods, analytical and survey tools, datasets, and analytical approaches to improve sustainability of fisheries and reduce uncertainty in biomass estimates. SCEMFIS university partners, University of Southern Mississippi (lead institution), and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, are the academic sites. Collaborating scientists who provide specific expertise in finfish, shellfish, and marine mammal research, come from a wide range of academic institutions, including Old Dominion University, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, University of Maryland, and University of Rhode Island.

The need for the diverse services that SCEMFIS can provide to industry continues to grow, which has prompted a steady increase in the number of fishing industry partners. These services include immediate access to science expertise for stock assessment issues, rapid response to research priorities, and representation on stock assessment working groups. Targeted research leads to improvements in data collection, survey design, analytical tools, assessment models, and other needs to reduce uncertainty in-stock status and improve reference point goals.

SOURCE: Science Center for Marine Fisheries

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