Two fishing industry groups have asked a Congressional committee to allocate tens of millions more in funds to NOAA Fisheries to help the agency mitigate impacts of offshore wind development on its long-standing federal fishery surveys, which inform management and ultimately the fishing quotas that are set each year. 

A “huge concern” held by the fishing industry is offshore wind farms impacting or precluding survey vessels from navigating in and around wind farms in order to assess fish stocks, which could in turn impact data collection, explained Fiona Hogan, research director at the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), earlier this month at a panel on offshore wind in Maine. 

If data is missing, lacking, or can no longer be collected in the same way, it could bias available information and regulators’ understanding, potentially leading to lower fishing quotas. 

“[W]e are concerned that the dollar amount provided for the Scientific Survey Mitigation

work is far too low given the rapid pace of [offshore wind] leasing and the number of scientific surveys that will be impacted,” wrote Annie Hawkins of RODA and Leigh Habegger of Seafood Harvesters of America in the March 17 letter to members of the Congressional Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Without this funding, Congress will hamstring the agency’s ability to develop and test new survey methodologies, calibrate previous decades’ survey data with new survey methods, implement new survey methodologies, and communicate these changes with Councils and fishery stakeholders,” they wrote.

The longstanding fishery surveys collect data on the abundance and distribution of a given species, such as scallops or the Atlantic surf clam, and serve as the foundation for stock assessments. 

Per the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), offshore wind can impact surveys in several ways: the turbines and undersea cables may preclude safe survey vessel and aircraft operation; the turbines and cables may alter habitat, which can affect species distribution and stock monitoring; the farms may serve as obstacles that increase transit times and reduce efficiency; and the development can disrupt the surveys’ statistical design. 

Congress last year appropriated more funds to NOAA Fisheries related to the expansion of offshore wind, and specifically to the agency’s surveys. However, the fishing industry is requesting much more to meet the scale of wind development: at least $2 million per survey per year (for 31 surveys), and at least $10 million for each of the agency’s six science centers to expand cooperative research with the commercial fishing industry.

“Scientific survey mitigation has resulted in, and will continue to cause, increased demand for staff time and resources from NMFS Science Centers, Regional Offices, and Office of Protected Resources,” they wrote. 

Late last year, BOEM and NOAA Fisheries issued a survey mitigation strategy to address anticipated impacts of offshore wind energy development on NOAA’s surveys, some of which have been ongoing for decades. 

“Offshore wind development can adversely affect NOAA Fisheries’ surveys by precluding access to sampling areas, impacting statistical design, altering habitats, and interfering with survey operations,” the agency stated in a press release

Per its mitigation strategy, “increased uncertainty in the data originating from these surveys typically results in more restrictive management,” and maintaining consistent designs and methods for the surveys is essential to their value. 

Part of the New Bedford fishing fleet as seen from the shore. Credit: Hugh Fanning / The New Bedford Light

According to the document, both NOAA and BOEM identified “major adverse impacts” to federal surveys in the Northeast due to the Vineyard Wind 1 project. Additionally, the overlap between NOAA surveys and offshore wind development in the region is “substantial,” with the combined wind projects totaling more than 2.3 million acres

“The complexity and cost of this effort very likely means that multiple funding sources will be needed to meet the goals,” the strategy stated, noting other approaches have been discussed, such as legislation to direct leasing revenues toward surveys, or requiring wind developers to contribute to survey mitigation through lease conditions. 

Speaking at the same forum in Maine as RODA’s Hogan, Andrew Lipsky, the offshore wind science lead for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, mentioned this survey mitigation effort for the Northeast.

“We have 14 core surveys that form long-term time series … It is not a light effort to understand the impacts and begin to mitigate,” he said of the existing surveys and overall impacts. “The resource need from my standpoint is great. The president’s budget from last year and this year does include an increase to NOAA Fisheries to begin initial efforts…”

Lipsky and Hogan worked together with other federal officials and researchers on a report, “Fisheries and Offshore Wind Interactions: Synthesis of Science,” which also addresses survey impacts.

Excerpt from a draft version of a federal report by RODA, NOAA Fisheries and BOEM obtained by The Light through a FOIA request.

The final report has yet to be released, but a draft copy obtained by The Light in response to a Freedom of Information Act request states: “By disrupting NOAA Fisheries survey programs and the advice that depends upon them, regional wind development will result in major adverse impacts on U.S. fisheries stakeholders, including fishermen and fishing communities.”

“The impacts on survey programs will lead to greater uncertainty in estimates of abundance, which through the application of the precautionary approach will likely lead to lower fishery quotas, ultimately resulting in lost revenue to commercial and recreational fishermen,” the draft report continues.  

It then lists 11 surveys in the Northeast — some dating back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — and identifies them as being impacted by offshore wind development, with some requiring new design and methods both within and outside of the wind lease areas. 

The RODA and Seafood Harvesters of America request to Congress was signed by dozens of fishermen and industry groups from both coasts. 

“The scale of [offshore wind] proposed in the U.S. is staggering. So too, are the financial resources already invested and required to develop effective strategies for its deployment,” the fishing industry advocates wrote. “[W]e feel the development of appropriate environmental impact mitigation strategies are equally important, if not more so … this funding is important now; securing funding after surveys are impacted will be too late.”

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at

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