BOEM, NOAA release plan to mitigate wind energy impacts on US fisheries

An offshore wind turbine.

The U.S. government on Monday, 5 December, unveiled a cross-agency plan to reduce the impact offshore wind energy sites may have on fishery surveys. However, questions remain on how NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will be able to completely fund the initiative.

According to a 37-page NOAA technical memorandum, the Federal Survey Mitigation Strategy is designed to come up with ways to ensure population counts conducted by boats and airplanes are not hindered by the construction and deployment of wind turbines in federal waters. While it currently relates to projects in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, federal officials said they believe it will have use in other regions as the government looks to develop offshore wind farms in other parts of the country.

NOAA Fisheries is responsible for assessing the status of about 450 fishery stocks, 200 marine mammal stocks, and 165 endangered or threatened species. Those assessments are conducted through more than 50 surveys, with some of those surveys having been in place for more than 30 years.

“We are committed to incorporating the best available science into our decision-making processes as we continue to advance the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said in a statement. “By taking an all-of-government approach, we can leverage the expertise and resources of our federal partners to ensure responsible development of offshore wind energy.”

The two agencies have established five goals as part of their strategy –including incorporating wind-energy monitoring studies, when feasible, with fishery surveys. They also plan to work with other key stakeholders, including area fishermen, who may be able to provide knowledge to shape mitigation strategies.

The technical memo, though, does not give a complete cost for the endeavor. A request for USD 8.4 million (EUR 8 million) by the Biden administration in the 2022 fiscal year budget would cover part of the Northeast mitigation strategy as developed more than two years ago.

“The complexity and cost of this effort very likely means that multiple funding sources will be needed to meet the goals of this strategy,” the report said. “Several other approaches have been discussed, including legislation to direct leasing revenues towards this effort or requiring developers to contribute to survey mitigation through lease conditions.”

Fishing industry leaders have raised concerns about the uncertainty over the amounts requested and how the initiative would be funded. In June 2022, Seafood Harvesters of America, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, and more than 60 fishing associations and businesses wrote to congressional leaders about the need for “robust funding” to mitigate the impacts of offshore wind on fisheries.

That letter listed five requests from the Biden administration, totaling nearly USD 46 million (EUR 44 million), for the 2023 fiscal year. However, fishing advocates said they feared that amount would not cover all the staffing and activities needed to address offshore wind impacts.

“Specifically, we are concerned that the dollar amount requested for the scientific survey mitigation work is far too low given the rapid pace of OSW leasing and the additional scientific surveys that will be impacted,” the advocates wrote. “Furthermore, we request [Congress] to consider appropriating additional funding specifically for cooperative research projects aimed at evaluating and mitigating the impacts of OSW.”

Biden’s 2023 budget listed USD 17.4 million (EUR 16.6 million) for scientific survey mitigation, but fishery proponents urged lawmakers to provide USD 43.8 million (EUR 41.8 million) instead.  

Photo courtesy of GE


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