Pilot Regional Fisheries Studies

With funding from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and BOEM, a coalition of state and federal resource agencies, the fishing community, and offshore wind leaseholders helped to develop a competitive process to solicit proposals for regional fisheries studies that will collect data vital to the ongoing development of the offshore wind in the Atlantic coast region. The studies commenced in Spring 2020 and are managed by MassCEC in coordination with BOEM, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Massachusetts and Rhode Island fishery resource Agencies. 

The initiative focuses on three priority areas of research:  

  • Fishery resource studies including surveys to identify the location and persistence of fish species that might be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of offshore wind throughout Southern New England.  Species include longfin squid, black sea bass, cod, surf clams/ocean quahogs, scallops, sharks and lobster.
  • Seafloor habitat studies incorporating a coordinated, comprehensive benthic habitat assessment and monitoring approach across MAWEA and RIMA.
  • Technical studies that focus on technologies, techniques and protocols for reducing conflicts between offshore wind energy infrastructure and commercial and recreational fishing activities. 

These priority areas were informed by work led by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to develop a comprehensive framework for a broad fisheries science and monitoring program, with input from federal, state, and industry stakeholders.

The five studies supported through the initiative are: 

  • INSPIRE Environmental – Acoustic Telemetry for Highly Migratory Species, with the New England Aquarium and Standard Approaches for Acoustic and Imagery Data: INSPIRE will conduct a two-year acoustic tagging and tracking study of highly migratory species such as tuna and sharks at popular recreational fishing spots in the wind energy areas, in order to provide new baseline data on highly migratory species. This will enable ongoing assessment of the impact of offshore wind on highly migratory species and associated recreational fishing. 
  • INSPIRE Environmental – Standard Approaches for Acoustic and Imagery Data: INSPIRE will also develop standard approaches to synthesizing, visualizing and disseminating high-resolution acoustic and imagery data for mapping of seabed habitat in the wind energy areas. This will advance baseline characterization of the seabed environment and make high-resolution mapped data available to stakeholders in a web-based, vetted and neutral forum.
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMD) – Net Survey for Larval Lobster and Fish Neuston, with Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association: UMD will conduct towed net surveys for larval lobster and fish neuston (small fish organisms) throughout the wind energy areas. This 18-month study will provide baseline information on the spatial and temporal distribution of species at their earliest life stage, during which they are transported by tides and currents.
  • University of Rhode Island (URI) – Fishing Status Using Vessel AIS Data and Machine Learning, with Rhode Island DEM: URI will merge electronic and other data on fishing vessel activity into a single data set and apply a “machine learning” approach to enable lower cost broad-scale modeling of the probability of fishing activity in a given area. This will allow researchers to identify where and when vessels are actually fishing, as opposed to being in transit.
  • New Bedford Port Authority – Comparative Analysis of Regulation in Europe and Japan: The New Bedford Port Authority will work with a consultant to conduct a comparative analysis of policies regarding coexistence of commercial fishing with existing offshore wind in Europe and emerging policies in Japan. The study is intended to establish a fact-based and broadly accepted narrative in this area. 

 View the May 2020 press release for these studies here