The states of Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI) are committed to diversifying the electric grid in New England with offshore wind while maintaining existing ecosystem function and services, including healthy natural resources and water quality, profitable multi-sector marine industries including commercial and recreational fishing industries, safe and efficient navigation, and public access and enjoyment within or adjacent to offshore wind development areas. In the Southern New England (SNE) Bight shelf region between New York Harbor and Nantucket Shoals, there are currently three wind energy areas: the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (MA WEA), the Rhode Island-Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (RI-MA WEA), and the New York Wind Energy Area (NY WEA). Within these WEAs there are four development leases. At least one more WEA in New York and three more leases in the MA WEA are expected in the coming months. It is difficult to predict the total number of turbines that will ultimately be placed, but the range of initial estimates are based on individual farms that include 15-185 turbines, so a build-out in the next decade could be more than 400 turbines. There is an understanding that broad-scale development of offshore wind could result in ecosystem changes, but there is uncertainty regarding the impact of these changes on the provision of ecosystem services. From September to December 2017, three forums were held: the National Academies of Science Ocean Studies Board subcommittee, the Rhode Island Offshore Wind Science Forum, and the University of Massachusetts Wind Collaborative fisheries meeting at the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST). Additionally, there were multiple Massachusetts Fisheries and Habitat Working Group meetings and Rhode Island Fisheries and Habitat Advisory Board meetings. There is broad consensus in the northeast that in addition to wind farm-specific impact assessment studies, regional studies should also be undertaken to address the cumulative impact of wind farms expanding across the eastern seaboard on the marine ecosystem and on the distribution of both fish resources and the fishing industry1 . Conducting regional studies to address the cumulative impact of wind farms at populationlevel scales is also being called for in Europe (Lindeboom et al. 2015; Willsteed et al. 2017). Further, the National Oceanic and Atomspheric Adminstration’s (NOAA) Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) and National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) have called for the establishment of a region-wide scientific research and monitoring framework with federal leadership following an ecosystem-based approach at the appropriate scales. This broader framework would complement sub-regional state efforts to most effectively address cumulative impacts and the known and potential future interactions of fisheries and offshore wind energy.
This document attempts to frame the research discussion so fundable studies can be prioritized and designed. In order to create such a framework, we started by identifying the management objectives as recommended in Wilding et al.’s (2017) review of European offshore wind monitoring programs:
“The identification of spatially/temporally delimited metrics and thresholds, in line with the overall management objectives, are the critical components to a logically based monitoring programme” (emphasis added).
On a regional scale, we want to identify what matters, why it matters, whether it can be measured and how, and how the results will be used. The development of a research program is an opportunity to identify where multiple goals (e.g., needs of the wind energy industry, the fishing industry, and the regulatory community) can be met. This report provides information about management objectives in order to help further the development of effective and informative research. Three examples of specific studies that could be funded with a description of how the study could be done and how the results would be used are provided.
The definition of management objectives and the design of the research framework requires stakeholder input to be most effective and transparent. This document was disseminated to the Massachusetts Fisheries Working Group, the Rhode Island Fisheries Advisory Board, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the New England Fisheries Management Council Habitat Committee, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, and the Center for Sustainable Fisheries for a four month public comment period from June to October 2018. Twelve individual responses were received and the response to comments is provided at the end of the document. We have designed this document to serve as a starting point for a regional fisheries science panel to clarify priorities and the appropriate scale at which to conduct various studies.