While the story of American offshore wind is long and complex, He and Stokesbury's research on the fish and shellfish in the zone off Martha's Vineyard has laid the groundwork
With decades of research experience on fish and fisheries off the coasts of New England, School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) faculty members Professor Pingguo He and Commonwealth Professor Kevin Stokesbury are taking on a new challenge: assessing the impact of offshore wind farms on fisheries off the coast of the U.S.
While the story of American offshore wind is long and complex, He and Stokesbury's research on the fish and shellfish in the zone off Martha's Vineyard has laid the groundwork for soon-to-be-built 1 million GWh of renewable energy per year.
To assess the impact of turbines and associated structures on fish communities in their offshore wind farm plot, the renewable energy company Vineyard Wind contracted He and Stokesbury with a $1M fund in 2021-2022 to do studies around the wind farm and the surrounding ecosystem. The company also funded He and Stokesbury in the previous two years for a similar study. The current contract funds three projects studying the offshore wind farm environment.
"The trawl survey with established methodology will not only provide insight into the possible changes in fish abundance and composition before and after construction of the wind farm, but they will also provide data for region-wise data for larger scale analysis on the ecosystem effect across the Atlantic coast of the U.S.," said He.
"The development of offshore wind on our continental shelf is a huge ecological experiment, and we are excited to be scientifically measuring this change," said Stokesbury.
Demersal Trawl Surveys
Seasonal demersal trawl surveys will assess the fish community in the wind farm area and an adjacent control area. Trawl surveys consist of dragging a mesh net across the bottom of the ocean to collect bottom-dwelling species, including some commercially important species in the region. For each tow, aggregate species weight and individual lengths and weights will be collected for all commercial fish species. This survey, which consists of at least 20 tows in the Wind Energy Area and another 20 tows in the Control area, will provide the baseline data on catch rates, population, and community structure for a future environmental assessment using the Before-and-After-Control-Impact framework.
Drop Camera Survey
A drop camera survey will collect baseline data on benthic species and habitat information in the area. This survey aims to provide distribution and abundance estimates of key benthic megafauna, classification of substrate type across the survey domain, and a comparison of benthic communities and substrate types between the wind farm area, control area, and broader regions of the U.S. continental shelf. It is an extension of the sea scallop survey conducted with New England's fishing industry.
American Lobster, Black Sea Bass, Larval Lobster Abundance Survey and Lobster Tagging Study
Continuing current studies conducted by SMAST, a standardized ventless trap survey, and tagging study will be used to assess the area's American lobster and Jonah crab resources. The black sea bass research will be continued to gather data on relative abundance, feeding habits, and size structure of fish in this region. The team will also determine the relative abundance and distribution of larval lobster.
These studies will help document changes in the marine habitat associated with offshore wind farm development.