New England council concerned about offshore wind and aquaculture’s impact on fish habitat

Concerned about the impact of offshore wind energy development – ​​and potentially aquaculture in federal waters – the New England Fishery Management Council is preparing an Area of ​​Special Concern Habitat (HAPC) in southern New England to focus on cod, scallops and other species that rely on critical fish habitat south of Cape Cod.

At its February 1-3 meeting, the board initiated an adjustment of the framework to develop the new HAPC, with the goal of having it ready in April 2022.

According to a council summary, HAPCs “highlight the importance of specific areas and habitat features, and strengthen the basis for conservation recommendations designed to avoid, minimize and mitigate habitat impacts.”

In a presentation to council, its habitat committee said a new HAPC in southern New England “is needed to emphasize the conservation of specific species managed by the New England Council. England with [essential fish habitat] in the zone.”

As Vineyard Wind begins construction of an 800 megawatt project and neighboring tenants move forward, the council said offshore wind development was its most immediate concern. The council also expressed concern about the potential for offshore aquaculture development in New England, with some companies exploring how to farm Atlantic salmon and other species offshore. The council is particularly concerned about Running Tide Technology’s proposal to farm kelp in the northwest section of Fippennies Ledge in the Gulf of Maine.

“This is due to concerns about the impacts of offshore development, particularly offshore wind in the near term, and possibly offshore aquaculture, in the future,” he said.

A February 15 letter from the council’s executive director, Tom Nies, to the US Army Corps of Engineers highlighted the council’s concerns over the Running Tide project, which hopes to operate 30 vertical lines with 15 separate moorings, with each line attached to a 30 600 pound chain and concrete block anchor. A public notice for the project described the affected area as less than a quarter acre, but Nies’ letter suggested it could be closer to two acres.

“Our understanding is that this project is a multi-year pilot effort to test environmental sensors and measure kelp growth rates under offshore conditions. Their longer term plans are to develop and deploy floating kelp farming platforms much farther offshore, which will eventually sink and sequester carbon in the deep sea,” Nies wrote. “While this longer-term work is not part of this permit application, we believe it would help explain the need for the pilot project in relation to the long-term goals of Running Tides… Explain the nature and duration of the project can help alleviate the concerns of the fishing industry.

The council expressed concern that the ocean floor could be damaged by shifting mooring lines and anchors, the letter said. Fippennies Ledge is managed as a habitat closure which prohibits mobile bottom servicing gear.

“We know the area is fished by charter boats targeting both groundfish and highly migratory species, and some of the captains have expressed concerns about the need to avoid vertical lines,” said Nies writes. “If the permit is issued, it will be important for Running Tide to clearly communicate the location of each mooring and the timing of installation. We suggest requiring a fisheries communication plan as a license condition.

Image courtesy of New England Fishery Management Council

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