Offshore Wind and Fishing: How Two Ocean Industries Will Coexist Off America’s Coasts

U.S. Coastal Cities Show Strong Support for Offshore Wind

Much ado has been made about potential conflicts between fishing interests and offshore wind, but already the two industries–along with state, federal, and local governments–are engaged in collaborative efforts to ensure they can thrive together off America’s coasts.

The commercial fishing industry has significant influence throughout the offshore wind development process and states, federal agencies, and offshore wind developers are making sure their concerns are addressed.

  • Nine East Coast states are developing plans to compensate the fishing industry for potential losses related to the construction of offshore wind farms, financed by wind developers.
    • States, the fishing industry, and offshore wind developers are currently collaborating on the establishment of a regional fisheries compensatory fund which would provide financial compensation for economic loss of fishermen from offshore wind development off the Atlantic Coast.
  • States are also working with scientists and experts to track offshore wind impacts on the recreational fishing economy to inform long-term sustainable policy decisions.
  • Federal agencies like NOAA and BOEM also work closely with fishing industry representatives to recognize and address potential concerns.
  • The Maine lobstering union and the Maine AFL-CIO recently came out in support of the Maine Labor Climate Council’s offshore wind plan that will protect fishing jobs and create high-quality union jobs.

The offshore wind industry has made major adjustments to its plans to be responsive to fishing industry requests and ensure that two industries can coexist.

  • U.S. wind projects are being designed to account for fishing within the boundaries of the wind farms, with turbine spacing and layouts coordinated with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Coast Guard to account for fishing needs.
  • Vineyard Wind agreed to one nautical mile spacing between turbines to allow for ease of fishing boat navigation through the areas. This is not standard practice in the EU and represents the largest turbine spacing in the world, reducing both the power generation potential and earnings of the offshore wind companies.
  • These spacing layouts are coordinated with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal body responsible for fisheries management.
  • In response to community and fishermen’s feedback, the size and location of several ocean tracts for leasing have been reduced and adjusted. Ørsted’s South Fork Wind Farm revised its proposed layout twice in direct response to fishing stakeholders, agreeing to a 1 nautical mile by 1 nautical mile grid across the swath of lease areas.
  • In the case of Vineyard Wind, the developer heeded fishing industry guidance and agreed to make changes like re-orienting turbines to address navigational concerns, shifting the landing point of its transmission cable, and reducing the number of turbines proposed from over 100 to 62.
  • Mature offshore wind farms already coexist with commercial fishing around the world, and wind developers and clean energy advocates have outlined measures to ensure both industries can thrive.

The fishing has never been better near the nation’s first offshore wind farm at Block Island. Studies there and overseas have shown that stationary offshore installations can support marine wildlife.

  • A seven-year study of the Block Island Wind Farm area, designed by local scientists and commercial fishermen, found only positive impacts to fish species in the area since the construction of the project.
  • Stationary offshore constructions have been found to act as artificial reefs that help boost ocean wildlife populations.
  • Studies have shown that fish populations around offshore wind farms are more abundant than in control areas outside of wind farms.
  • In the U.K., a six-year monitoring project around construction of an offshore wind farm found almost no difference in lobster populations between the wind farm and a control area.

Offshore wind provides carbon-free energy and as such is a climate change solution that can help marine wildlife by stemming the tide of the worsening threats of a warming ocean.

  • Rising ocean temperatures and acidification caused by climate pollution are changing the behaviors of fish species and threatening the populations of commercial species. Shifting to clean energy sources like offshore wind will help halt those impacts and protect the habitats that species rely on.
  • Offshore oil and gas development is also acutely harmful to marine wildlife populations and the fishing industry. Transitioning to clean energy like offshore wind can help avoid these impacts by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Anti-offshore wind groups with fossil fuel ties are bankrolling some fishing groups’ exaggerated and false claims against offshore wind.

  • Following closely on the heels of the Right Wing disinformation campaign falsely linking recent whale beachings to offshore wind activities, another front of disinformation and exaggeration is emerging surrounding commercial fishing concerns about the nascent industry.
  • We know from recent polling that fears about offshore wind’s potential impact on commercial fishing is one of the opposition’s strongest messages. Anti-wind groups know this, too, and are leveraging voices in the fishing industry to put a sympathetic face on their efforts to stifle offshore wind development.
  • The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a fishing group meant to foster collaboration with the offshore wind industry, has instead been fighting to block offshore wind projects through lawsuits, represented by lawyers working for fossil-fuel linked groups.
  • RODA has ties to fossil fuel-backed groups like the Caesar Rodney Institute, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the (Koch funded) State Policy Network-backed American Coalition for Ocean Protection / Ocean Environment Legal Defense Fund (astroturf groups with names that evoke environmentalism).
    • The Caesar Rodney Institute is a think tank led by David Stevenson, a former member of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team and working in alignment with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
    • The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank backed by fossil fuel interests, has been behind a number of recent lawsuits aimed at exploiting fishing industry concerns to halt offshore wind development.
  • The American Coalition for Ocean Protection has a legal arm set up specifically to fight offshore wind projects. RODA is using lawyers from this network in their lawsuits.