Development of the South Fork Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island would have an overall "major" adverse impact on commercial fishing, according to a newly released federal study.
Impacts to commercial fishing include navigational hazards from potential collisions, loss of fishing grounds and impacts from construction and operation, according to a final environmental impact statement released Monday by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The study found that impacts to other categories studied such as the potential impacts to air and water quality, marine mammals and bats, were negligible to minor, with many offset by the benefits of wind energy in combating climate change.
The overall "major adverse impact" on commercial fishing reflects the finding that some "commercial fisheries and fishing operations would experience substantial disruptions indefinitely even if remedial action is taken," the study said.
But it’s not just the turbines that will impact fishing operations, BOEM found, saying that impacts of climate change and fishing itself present greater threats to the industry.
BOEM "expects that regulated fishing effort and climate change will continue to be the most impact-producing factor[s] controlling the sustainability of commercial and for-hire recreational fisheries in the area," the study said.
Mark Philips, a commercial fisherman operating out of Greenport, cast doubt on the notion that climate change and fishing presented greater threats than the turbines themselves to his fishing activities. For one, he said, he and many other trawler fishermen have no intention of attempting to fish among the turbines, which will be one nautical mile apart — and upward of 800 feet high.
"I’m not going to take the chance," he said.
With wind farms planned from Maine to North Carolina, he sees his fishing options collapsing, even if, as the study points out, planners identified and excluded the most productive fishing grounds from the wind energy areas.
"It’s going to affect me big time," said Philips, who fishes mainly for squid and said he’s concerned that vibrations from the towers themselves could impact fish behavior, driving them away. "I’m concerned about what the overall impact is going to be."
Energy companies Orsted and Eversource, which together own and will operate the South Fork Wind Farm under contract to Long Island Power Authority, declined to discuss specifics of the final environmental impact statement.
Spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said, "South Fork Wind continues to advance steadily through the federal permitting process and we’re pleased to reach this latest milestone, the issuance of BOEM’s final Environmental Impact Statement."
The companies said they remain "on-track to be fully permitted by early 2022, with construction activities ramping up soon after on this historic, New York-first offshore wind farm."
After recent negotiations in Rhode Island, Orsted agreed to reduce the South Fork Wind Farm's footprint from 15 turbines to 12, and to establish a fishermen's mitigation fund of some $12 million.
It's unclear whether such a fund will be available for New York fishermen. Last month, Wims said New York fishermen who fish in federal waters affected by the project are "subject to an ongoing process at the state and federal level" for a potential compensation package.
Even before the dozen turbines are set in the water, impacts to commercial fishermen include "the presence of construction vessels," which could "temporarily restrict fishing vessel movement and harvesting activities" in the wind areas. Creation of "safety zones" would lead fishermen to either "forfeit fishing revenue or relocate to other fishing locations," potentially increasing their costs, the study found.