Fishermen Survey Finds Varied Perceptions About Impacts of Block Island Wind Farm

A fishing boat from Point Judith, R.I., near the Block Island Wind Farm. Commercial fishermen view the facility mostly as a negative. (Deepwater Wind)

A fishing boat from Point Judith, R.I., near the Block Island Wind Farm. Commercial fishermen view the facility mostly as a negative. (Deepwater Wind)

By ecoRI News staff

KINGSTON, R.I. — Commercial fishermen have very different perceptions of the impact of the Block Island Wind Farm than do recreational fishermen, according to a survey of both groups by a University of Rhode Island doctoral student.

Of the 25 fishermen interviewed, all of whom said they regularly fish in the area of the wind facility, the recreational fishermen generally perceive the five turbines positively while the commercial fishermen see them as mostly negative.

The results of the study, funded by Rhode Island Sea Grant, were reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C., last month.

“Little is known about the impacts of offshore wind farms on marine users in the United States, and it’s critical to understand these impacts in context,” said Tayla ten Brink, the URI student who conducted the survey with professor Tracey Dalton. “Generally, our findings show there are uneven impacts on the different fishing sectors.”

According to ten Brink, almost all of the fishermen agreed that there is more recreational fishing taking place in the vicinity of the wind turbines than before the turbines were installed, because the turbine support structures serve as artificial reefs that attract a variety of fish and marine invertebrates to the area. For instance, cod and other species not found in the area before are now observed.

As a result, charter boats and recreational fishermen are drawn to the area that they seldom visited prior to the wind facility’s installation. The area has also become a prime destination for recreational spearfishing.

The commercial fishermen surveyed said the increase in recreational fishermen, as well as what they called “wind farm tourists,” were an inconvenience because they increased activity on their fishing grounds.

The commercial fishermen also noted fears that their gill nets and other gear would become entangled in the recreational fishermen’s gear, forcing them to be more cautious about where they fish. They also worry about running into the turbines with their vessels. The end result, they said, is fewer places for them to conduct their business.

The survey results could have implications for future planning for offshore wind-energy development.

“Climate change is a huge problem worldwide, and renewable-energy resources could reduce CO2 emissions by half, so if we’re planning on using offshore wind, it’s important to understand the concerns and the pros and cons of the structures being out there,” ten Brink said. “Once we understand, it will be much easier to have a productive discussion about how to go forward with offshore wind development. As with any large-scale project, offshore wind development can be done right or wrong.”

She suggested that the survey results might inspire developers to build relationships with charter boats and recreational fishing organizations that would benefit from offshore wind-energy development. Developers might also ease the concerns expressed by commercial fishermen about running into the structures by supporting the acquisition of new navigation equipment for the fishermen.

“The survey results open up a lot of ways to create win-win situations,” ten Brink said.

She cautioned, however, that her results only reflect the impacts of one small wind facility in operation for only a year. Once the novelty wears off for the recreational fishermen and the commercial fishermen learn to live with the turbines, their perceptions may change.

“There were fishermen who were really worried about the impacts and were pleased when the impacts weren’t too bad, but they’re still worried about the impacts of more and more turbines in the future,” ten Brink said.