Offshore Wind In The NJ/NY Bight – Looking into the recreational side of things.

The deadline has been extended to March 13 (from Feb 26, 2024) to comment on the Draft New York Bight Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DPEIS). Please don’t be afraid to dive in and formulate your own public comment. Here’s another link for more info on the NY Bight from BOEM.

Basically the document assess the potential impacts that could result from the development of six “new” lease areas (488,000 acres) offshore of the NJ and NY coastline offshore wind in the NY Bight. I’ve attend most of BOEM’s in person meetings (in NJ) and virtual meetings/calls for a number of years now. However BOEM has not held a classic public hearing. So when I heard about the public hearing on 2/20/24 in Long Branch hosted by Clean Ocean Action, a champion ocean advocate, I couldn’t miss it.

The meeting was recorded so if you would like to tune in, my comments are at the 28 minutes mark and I’m followed up by Jim Hutchinson at the 38 minute mark. The timer on the podium was broken so my five minute slot ended up being 10 minutes and I still didn’t get through much of what I had prepared. So I’ll include the entire write up below. An Asbury Park Press reported attended and included me in their recent article, but really didn’t share much meat. So I’m including my entire public comment below, most of which I did not get time to share. I encourage any and all anglers whether pro or against offshore wind to formulate your thoughts and submit public comment to BOEM before the deadline.

First and foremost, the deadline must be extended or better yet canceled altogether. The speed of development is outpacing the speed of science and the needs of the sea. Top scientists are working in these topics and acknowledge vital data gaps with regards to potential impacts.

There’s so many massive topics; however, I will stay in my lane with regards to fishing… 

The offshore waters of the NY Bight (NYB) have long supported populations of coastal fishery resources (CFR), highly migratory fish species (HMS; e.g., tunas, billfish, mahi mahi, sharks) and many fisheries that target them. Serving as a migratory corridor for numerous CFR and  HMS (Galuardi and Lutcavage, 2012; Vaudo et al., 2016; Kohler and Turner, 2019), NYB is ecologically-important and contains Essential Fish Habitat (EFH; i.e., the waters and substrate necessary for spawning, feeding, and growth to maturity) for many economically important species as well as a handful of endangered and critically endangered species.

1) Recreational Fishing Contributions 

NYB also contains historical fishing grounds for iconic species and supports an extensive HMS recreational fishery in which thousands (NJ/NY Private Boat 6927, including charter/head boat the total is 7779; 2022 NOAA Fisheries HMS SAFE Report) of vessels participate each year. In 2021 recreational anglers in New Jersey and New York contributed $4.2Billion in economic output and supported 28,290 jobs. (Southwick, 2021) Imagine the updated numbers due to inflation. 

A large portion of this recreational fishing effort occurs within popular fishing areas that have been leased for offshore wind development. The diversity of the rich fisheries and the threat from offshore wind development’s impacts are not bound by lease area borders. The Socio-Economic Impact of OCS Wind Energy Development on Fisheries in the US Atlantic predates the NYB Leases. Therefore the economic impacts as well as a cumulative analysis of impacts to the fisheries must be completed for the entire region. There must be a comprehensive assessment of baseline recreational fishing effort for both coastal CFR & HMS in NYB and the associated Wind Energy Areas.

At the recent NYB Draft PEIS BOEM public meeting (Feb 8th in Toms River) I reviewed the recreational fishing hand out and poster (3.6.1-22). I questioned subject matter expert Brandon Jensen (Fisheries Biologist at BOEM), Why is the recreational fishing industry which I am part of largely left out in Section 3.6.1?

3.6.1-38: “Based on NMFS data, there is no substantial for-hire recreational fishing activity in any of the six lease areas.” This is far from true. And due to this oversight Table 3.6.1-16 misrepresents the small business revenue from inside the NYB lease areas. The fishing hot spots known as the Resor, Atlantic Princess, Chicken Canyon, Triple Wrecks and the Corvallis, The Star, 20/30 Fm Curve, among others are all in the same area. Large fleets of 50-100+ recreational private vessels commonly congregate in small areas when tuna fishing. These same areas are popular sharking, mahi, cod and sea bass fishing areas. I can somewhat agree with “the most impacted species includes cod in OCS-A 0544 (NMFS 2023h) and bluefin tuna, red hake, and black sea bass in OCS-A 0538 (NMFS 2023j).” However the chart (3.6.1-22) poorly represents the recreational fishing effort with a long fishing history in the NYB and more specifically in the lease areas. There’s more effort at the hot spots mentioned (in and around the NYB lease areas) than the Barnegat Ridge (also a fishing hot spot) which is painted with significantly more fishing effort.

In blue OCS-A 0538 is better known as owned by Attentive Energy. This 131.7 square mile lease area is located 42 miles east of Barnegat Inlet and 54 miles south of Fire Island Inlet, NY. It is the summertime tuna fishing mid-shore grounds in addition to home of a number of prominent wreck sites.

There are major data gaps that the PEIS must consider. Recreation catch and effort data is severely lacking and there is little to no spatial data collected for recreational private boat anglers. MRIP through APAIS (Access Point Angler Intercept Surveys) collect catch per trip data do not record specific fishing spot/location data, only the location of the intercept and the general area of fishing such as shore, private, for-hire. NOAA’s own study finds their estimates are way off and their program needs an overhaul. The lack of information on recreational fishing does not constitute a free pass for evaluating PRIVATE RECREATIONAL fishing impacts occurring in the leases. 

The state and feds largely do not know exactly where private anglers fish and do not know where these same boats transit unless monitoring AIS which the majority of private boats do not have. To learn more about this I believe that there must be work done now similar to what URI/CRMC/RISA did to determine where anglers are fishing and where anglers are from, but must look at the broader area to obtain private recreation fishing effort in federal waters.

BOEM must formulate recreational fishing surveys (not MRIP)  that directly obtain recreational fishing information (even if qualitative) to help characterize the fishing activity within the lease areas.  To do this, developers should be required to collect data (survey and engage with the recreational fishing community). This engagement must come with significant oversight so that developers can’t just check a box by doing nothing, like they do now by relying on MRIP.

Extrapolating private recreational fishing spatial data utilizing a fishing app like Fish Rules such as in Scott Steinback’s (Economist with NOAA Fisheries) work is suspect. Many saltwater anglers know the rules before they go fishing. Some anglers may check the rules via app, but the location when checking is not necessarily where they fished. It would be a different story if it was a fish catch logging app (like Fish Brain) that tracks the gps and needs a photo’s metadata locations to acquire position. But still there are not enough anglers participating so the sample size is far too small.

It is unfathomable that this amount of time and progress has passed without baseline data.

2) The Negative Reef Effect  Production vs Aggregation

Despite what Anglers For Offshore Wind promotes, the majority of the recreational fishing community does not support offshore wind. Many of the anglers I talk to have major concerns. Not all marine life flourishes in a hard bottom ecosystem and it does not necessarily help NJ and NY anglers. It brings a lot of uncertainties to the table, many of which management has no handle on. OSW is not a magical solution to help the fisheries, fix climate change, fix ocean acidification and the changing currents. It adds a lot of uncertainty and jeopardizes the ecosystem.

Turbines are offshore fish attracting/aggregating devices which greatly increase fish catchability. This is stated in 3.6.1 as a benefit to for-hire recreational fisheries however this is a very large issue that fisheries managers must understand and manage properly. The fish will come from other fishing grounds and these concentrations will be easier and quicker to catch leading to localized and regional depletion. Overfishing can happen fast resulting in a closure of the fishery and then economic hardship follows. Or effort is turned to another species which stresses another fishery. “Some fisheries could experience substantial disruptions indefinitely, even with the implementation of the AMMM (avoidance, minimization, mitigations, monitoring) measures.”

OCS Study BOEM 2015-037 – 3.2.3 Artificial Reef Aggregation:  Many aspects of the fisheries resources communities within the wind energy areas are expected to be affected through habitat changes and the introduction of new structures; species abundance, density, composition, diversity, dominance, size classes, and productivity (McCann, 2012; Rodmell and Johnson, 2005). The introduction of new structure is expected to provide new habitat for species to colonize and aggregate around, and the local communities are expected to change from non-structure based to structure based (BOEM DOE/EIS-0470, 2012).  Species compositions of artificial reefs have been found to differ from natural reefs and their presence can also affect the surrounding biodiversity, thus areas outside the footprints of these wind energy areas may be impacted (Inger et al., 2009). 

At one offshore wind energy facility the species diversity was lower on turbines compared to nearby natural boulders, indicating the artificial reef effect of the turbines was not as beneficial as having natural rocky habitat (Wilhelmsson and Malm, 2008). Background research did indicate there may be potential positive impacts, if these areas have exclusion zones the areas may act as marine protected areas (MPA) for fisheries resources (Inger et al., 2009). 

Access can not be restricted!

Another negative reef effect is the altering and possibly stopping of the seasonal movement of fish to the inshore waters. This could impact availability to the non-boat-owning or only small boat owning inshore fishing segment of the public. 

Inshore/nearshore anglers (private rec, for-hire, party/charter) will lose opportunity if fish are aggregating around OFW structures. They will need to run further offshore which adds time and fuel costs. I classify this impact as an environmental justice issue since non-boat owners are most impacted and the mitigation solution is being focused on anglers who have the means to access the OFW structures in a private or for hire boat. Some can and will fish these areas on head boats and for-hire boats BUT that represents less that 9% of total trips.  Land based trips represent the vast majority of fishing effort in the state of NJ in any given year and that mode (as well as the fishing tackle retail, bait & tackle, tackle manufacturers, boat builders and ancillary businesses) is expected to the bear the brunt of the negative reefing impacts.  These potential losses and the environmental justice must be reviewed and included.  

3) EFH – Essential Fish Habitat

The NYB leases are in the middle of the 20/30/40 fm midshore offshore fishing grounds which is some of the most productive fishing grounds and also home to a number of prominent/historic  wreck sites. The area’s sand ridges are home to abundant colonies of sand lance aka sandeels which are a quintessential link in the food web. They are not only forage to ground fish and pelagic species but also whales and sea birds. Anyone who has fished these waters in the summertime knows the show is better than Sea World! Based on documents which detail the strong association of sand eels to sandy sediment, sand eels will most likely be negatively affected by the radical change in habitats when hundreds of turbines and thousands of tons of rock scour protection are added around the turbine and substation bases. If and when sand eels leave, so too do all of the other species.

How can it be that no HAPC (habitat areas of particular concern) are designated within the NYB yet summer flounder spawn in the winters on the OCS and use the areas during all four stages of their life cycle (egg, larvae, juveniles and adults)? Many other coastal species rely on the Chicken Canyon and Hudson Canyon during one or more life stages and use the NYB’s lease areas. Also mako sharks should be of concern as they spend a lot of time in this area. As of 7/5/2022, U.S. fishermen may not land or retain Atlantic short fin mako sharks; however these water used to be prime shark fishing grounds.  It seems many of these are conveniently overlooked. A lot of these ecologically sensitive area (what I would call HAPC) and fishing hot spots were detailed in the very basic early work of Buchanan at the NJDEP in 2010, NJ’s Area of Interest – Wind Power On The OCS. Was any of this really basic stuff even considered?

4) Safety At Sea – Navigational Safety

NOAA Fisheries 2022 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report Atlantic HMS – Section 7 Safety Data must include updated information to include and evaluate the safety issues within the recreation fishery, safety at sea, fishing vessel risk assessment navigation through WEAs. From all documents I can gather this is totally overlooked.

While this is outside the scope of the DPEIS: In March 23, 2022, the NJ Marine Resources Administration was involved in dialogue with several other state/federal agencies regarding the need and appropriate size of a buffer between offshore wind turbines and artificial reefs and fish havens. Some of these reef sites have material right along the edge and commonly outside of the actual boundaries. There was discussion with the NJ MFC Offshore Wind Advisors which suggested 1-2NM buffer area to minimize damage to the reef habitat during construction from sound, vibration, sediment plums as well as safe drifting and transiting. With regards to NJ saltwater fishing, 25% of all fishing trips occur on a NJ reef site and 65% of bottom fishing occurs on the reefs. There is significant effort and traffic in these areas. To the best of my knowledge this was largely ignored.

5) EMF – Electro-Magnetic Field Cable Emissions

With regards to EMF there MUST be a threshold level of EMF emissions that are identified as acceptable or unacceptable for the marine environment and this should change in consideration to the water depth. The same emf emissions in deep open water that fish may feel, react and get up over very well may have a much more powerful effect in shallow estuaries and bays. 

6) Discharges/Intakes 

With regards to discharges/intakes (3.5.2-24) routine vessel discharges even within USCG regulations brings a hot topic of invasive species to the forefront. OSSs with open loop cooling systems must be prohibited due to thermal plume, warming waters and loss of fish larvae. This could hurt recruitment and jeopardize the sustainability of some fisheries. The NYB, the waters and substrate necessary for spawning, feeding, and growth to maturity.

In New Jersey, PSEG continues to pay compensatory mitigation for the fish eggs/larvae entrained/impinged through the open loop cooling system at the Salem nuke plant.  That money goes towards a host of programs that seek to offset the impact of that mortality.   Given the fact that we know many important species, fluke and BFT being just two, spawn in those waters or where their larvae are present in waters where AC/DC substations would be needed, BOEM must calculate mortality and execute an agreement to outline a plan to mitigate the impact.   A mitigation fund must be set up prior to construction with payments into the fund based on the economic cost associated with their entrainment/impingement.  

7) Cold Pool Disruption 

The NYB’s unique cold bottom waters support our diverse fisheries and must be protected. The use of “few studies” and “fewer studies” in Section 3.4.2-13 screams, stop and get the scientific work done before proceeding. “The new presence of structures and their impact on regional scale oceanographic processes and potential secondary changes to primary production and ecosystems is extremely important. Structures may reduce wind-forced mixing of surface waters, whereas water flowing around the foundations may increase vertical mixing.” “There has been extensive research into characterizing and modeling atmospheric wakes created by wind turbines in order to design the layout of wind facilities.” Obviously their investment depends on it. Why isn’t this same attention and resources dedicated to hydrodynamics?

8) Mitigation – Financial Compensation

Last but certainly not least

I attended a meeting in July 12, 2022 BOEM Draft Fisheries Mitigation Guidance Document Meeting and have tried to stay up to date on the process of this document. At the time the Fishing Tackle Retail, Bait & Tackle, Tackle Manufacturers, Boat Builders and ancillary businesses were completely left out of consideration for financial compensation in the event of lost income as a result of offshore wind development. Still today I believe this is completely absurd. Congress must give BOEM more direct authority to fund mitigation. The Economic Contributions of Recreational Fishing by the American Sportfishing Association in partnership with the Southwicks Associates (for over 30 years, the leading market research and economics firm specializing in hunting, sportfishing and the outdoor recreation markets) must be included in the DPEIS. The recreational fishing industry is an economic engine that is very much overlooked by BOEM and the entire offshore wind development processes.

DPEIS 3.6.1, 2-32: “Fishing could experience substantial disruptions indefinitely, even with implementation of the AMMM measures. The AMMM measures would compensate commercial and for-hire recreational fishermen for loss of income due to unrecovered economic activity and to shoreside businesses for losses indirectly related to the expected development; provide monetary compensation for lost gear or income. Other AMMM measures propose the development of monitoring plans or adaptive management plans that would increase data and knowledge that might facilitate the development of future mitigation.” 

Impacts very well take years to manifest and the fishing industry as a whole must be included in this mitigation package. FURTHERMORE, mitigation payments must come from top line revenue ONLY! They should not be passed along to ratepayers!

For the record I showed my writing/comment to Captain Tony DiLernia a recreational fishing liaison from NYSERDA (NY State Energy Research & Development Authority) at the AC Boat Show on 3/1/23. I asked him to review and asked, “What’s your take on this? Am I off base with anything? ” His reply, “No. This is a great write up. You have done your homework.”

Are you looking to read some more?

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-291 – Fisheries and Offshore Wind Interactions: Synthesis of Science

OCS Study BOEM 2017-012: Socio-Economic Impact of Outer Continental Shelf Wind Energy Development on Fisheries in the U.S. Atlantic


Author: FishHead.Greg

A Long Beach Island native with life long experience fishing and navigating the local waters, Greg is a distinguished Master Captain (the highest qualified operator license), holding a US Coast Guard Masters 50T Near Coastal License with Towing Endorsement. Raised in and now managing his family's bait and tackle business, Fishermans Headquarters (Since 1962, The Saltwater Fishing Bait & Tackle Experts) Greg is daily immersed in fishing. He is the Chief Contributor of FishingLBI.com (Long Beach Island's best fishing report blog) as well as the Admin for the shop's social media pages (on Instagram and Facebook). Be sure to follow!

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