The offshore wind energy industry is advancing rapidly and plans for several facilities along the U.S. Atlantic coast are currently under environmental review. The potential effects of wind energy development on marine fisheries resources have gained attention due to the ecological and economic importance of the fisheries and for the repercussions to fishing communities. The Atlantic surfclam fishery (Spisula solidissima) is one of the most exposed fisheries to impact from offshore wind energy development due to port location, the overlap of fishing grounds and wind energy areas, and the nature of the gear and vessels used. Once built out with turbines, cables, and scour protection, Atlantic surfclam fishing and survey operations within wind energy areas may be reduced or eliminated due to vessel limits, safety requirements, and assessment protocols. Exclusion of these activities in certain regions will have consequences to the behavior and economics of the fishery and the scientific and management products employed in this fishery which could have downstream ecological or economic effects. Using a modeling tool (SEFES) that integrates spatial dynamics in surfclam stock biology, fishery captain and fleet behavior, federal management decisions, and fishery economics, the impact of excluding fishing and survey efforts from wind energy areas were examined. Model simulations allow in silico experiments to be conducted that prevent fishing vessels from accessing wind energy lease areas (displacement) or prevent vessel from fishing or transiting through wind energy lease areas. Our simulations include scenarios in which fishing displacement occurs cumulatively across all wind energy projects (Chapter 5), as well as scenarios in which displacement is limited to wind projects in individual regions (Chapter 6). Additionally, our model simulates the semi-annual stock assessment survey that is conducted on commercial vessels and is used in management of the fishery and stock. Simulations included scenarios that allowed evaluation of changes in survey results due to the inability of the survey to access wind energy lease areas (Chapter 7). At the time of model development and initial simulations (Chapter 5-7), the wind energy areas now delineated as the New York Bight lease areas had not been determined. Consequently, our initial simulations included a larger contiguous block that was identified as potential future wind energy areas to be considered for leasing (‘Call Areas’ in Chapters 5 -7). Portions of the ‘Call Areas’ were removed from consideration as BOEM identified the ultimate blocks for the New York Bight lease areas. Finally, our simulations include lease area designations that are specific to the footprint of the New York Bight lease areas, as opposed to the larger NY Bight “Call Areas” that were used in earlier chapters, and designated transit corridors for vessels passing through the New York Bight wind lease areas (Chapter 8).
All simulation strategies were informed via detailed interviews and input from advisory teams from industry, management, and BOEM. Imposing exclusionary restrictions on Atlantic surfclam vessel fishing and transit across wind energy areas increased fishing trip travel time and total time at sea, leading to reductions in the number of trips taken by the fleet and increased costs associated with displaced fishing effort. The simulated cumulative economic revenue losses range from 3% to 15% depending on the scenario simulated; however, for restrictions imposed for region B (off New Jersey) revenue losses up to 26% are seen for the Atlantic City fleet alone. Further, our simulations indicate that exclusion of the stock assessment survey from wind energy areas will make approximately 3% to 17% of the Atlantic surfclam spawning stock biomass inaccessible to the survey. This loss of biomass to the survey will cause perceived fishing mortality to increase by 0.7 to 7.3% because of the combination of reduction of observable stock biomass and changes in catch due to changes in fishing behavior. This evaluation of the possible scale of impacts of offshore wind development on the Atlantic surfclam fishery and its management can help inform strategies to allow coexistence of multiple sectors of ocean users. Understanding the impacts of fishery exclusion and fishing effort displacement from offshore wind energy development is critical to the sustainability of various fishing industries on the Northeast U.S. continental shelf.