Dozens of underwater monitoring devices attached to large concrete blocks have been placed in the waters off the eastern South Shore, and one Montauk fisherman who inadvertently hauled one up Monday criticized researchers for failing to properly notify the fishing fleet.
Fisheries researchers and the South Fork Wind Farm confirmed the devices are part of an effort to study fishing behavior, in part out of concerns from fishermen about wind-farm cables impacting their livelihoods. Stony Brook University and its partners have been deploying sensors to study fish since 2008
Commercial fisherman Dan Warner estimated the monitoring device embedded in a concrete block weighed upward of 500 pounds, and wound up in his trawl net as he fished through the area earlier this week.
"It ripped out the belly of my net, smashed the side of my boat, and took me two hours to get it out it," he said. "It was a nightmare."
Worse, he said, the wind farm companies that commissioned the study, Orsted-Eversource, failed to notify him or other fishermen who work that area, some of whom said they have also encountered the devices, which are connected by chain and rope to two buoys that Warner said didn’t reach the surface.
"There were no navigational warnings, nothing," he said.
The devices are part of a study to determine whether electromagnetic and other electrical fields from wind-farm cables affect fish movements and behavior, a concern of some fishermen.
When Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, started asking questions, she said she received a note from Cornell Cooperative Extension, which is working with Stony Brook University to place the devices as Orsted makes plans to install a cable to connect its South Fork Wind farm.
"We have recently installed the acoustic array to monitor the effects of the cable installation/electromagnetic field on important commercial fish species," according to the note forwarded to Newsday. " … The project is in the initial phase collecting data prior to cable construction."
The team said it "would like to minimize loss of the receivers and any potential damage to fishing gear," and provided a list of the coordinates of the receivers, saying it would "like to send this information to the fishing fleet." It requested that Brady send a list of emails of fishing captains from Montauk and Shinnecock. "We would appreciate any help!" Researchers said they previously provided a general map of the sensor field during a public task force meeting in spring, but weren't able to provide the final specific locations until all sensors were deployed early this week.
Brady said the time to provide notification was before the devices were installed.
"They did none of that" notification, Brady said. "They dropped things in and guys started having problems and they did nothing." She sent a letter to Stony Brook professor Michael Frisk, who also chair’s the DEC’s Marine Resources Advisory Council, asking that some of the devices that conflict with fishing be moved.
Warner said he notified the Coast Guard of the devices and said he was told they were unaware of them. A Coast Guard spokesman didn’t immediately respond.
DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said the agency requires no permits to place the devices in the water.
DEC did approve a permit for Stony Brook and Cornell to "collect and possess" fish to be surgically tagged as part of the study, but the DEC was "not involved in the scheduling of the deployment of the arrays," spokeswoman Lori Severino said.
Orsted/Eversource spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said the project was discussed in Fisheries Studies Working Group meetings, which included the DEC, East Hampton town and other officials, and the commercial fishing association. But Brady said it was never discussed when she attended the meetings.
Nevertheless, said Wims of Orsted/Eversource, South Fork Wind "moving forward … will provide notice of the sensors’ locations in our [regular] Mariner’s Briefing, out of an abundance of caution." She said the company has contacted one fisherman to address damage to his trawl net.
Wims said sensors of the type dropped off East End waters were "quite common in the area" and are part of the company’s "commitment to conduct fisheries research along the route of the undersea cable."
Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for Stony Brook University, said there are around 130 sensors deployed in New York waters and the new sensors are part of a "broader receiver network" along the Eastern Seaboard to "track the movements of a variety of fish."
Sheprow said the team shared coordinates with the commercial fishing association "as soon as our researchers completed the mooring deployment" this week. The group has set the devices before and has not sent out notifications in the past.
Warner’s catch was "the first time something like this has happened," she wrote. "We didn’t anticipate damage to gear." Previous monitors have been set in Montauk, Jones Beach and the Rockaways.
DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren noted the project was not DEC led and the agency was "not advised about the timing of deployment" of the sensors. She said while its fishing distribution list is for regulations and advisories, DEC would be willing to use it to send information about the sensors "if notified and requested" by the group.
Brady said the notification on Monday was too late — that fishermen should have had a say in where, and whether, the devices were set.