The United States is entering a new era of energy development with the emergence of offshore wind energy as part of the nation's energy portfolio. Across the country, states have developed Renewable Portfolio Standards for energy utilities that can be supported by the introduction of offshore wind. In 2020, two pilot wind turbines were installed off the coast of Virginia through a partnership among Commonwealth of Virginia (lessee), Dominion Energy (operator) and Ørsted (installer). With the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, the Commonwealth is dedicated to achieving a 100% renewable energy supply by 2050. These are the first new offshore wind turbines in the United States since construction of the Block Island Wind Farm off Block Island, Rhode Island, was completed in 2016. Plans for utility-scale wind farms in waters of the US Atlantic outer continental shelf are expected to be approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) starting in 2021, with more to follow in the next three to five years.
The projected development of US offshore wind energy resources will change the ocean landscape. Commercial and recreational fishing, industries with significant economic and cultural value in the United States, will be particularly affected by offshore wind energy development. Avoidance and mitigation of potential impacts on marine resources and maritime economies from offshore wind construction and operation will require evidence-based planning for the effects that might be expected to occur at an individual site. At the same time, there is an opportunity to take a comprehensive approach to understanding how localized changes within wind farm footprints will affect fisheries on regional scales and across projects.
This special issue of Oceanography, Understanding the Effects of Offshore Wind Development on Fisheries, provides an overview of what has been learned from research and monitoring of offshore wind farm impacts on fisheries resources. Much of the current understanding of these impacts and the lessons for monitoring them are synthesized in this issue are based on experiences from European wind farms. Monitoring around the five turbines in the Block Island Wind Farm provides insights into changes that may be expected in the US Atlantic. The US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will be the focus of offshore wind development activity in the near future because there are abundant wind resources in these areas, and many leases are in place already. Planning for offshore wind energy development along the US West Coast and Hawai'i is also underway (BOEM, 2020). This special issue stems, in part, from a workshop conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to plan research and monitoring for fisheries impacts from offshore renewable energy installations that are projected for the US Atlantic outer continental shelf (NASEM, 2018).