Fishing Impact Study Sought On Offshore Wind Farm

OCEAN CITY — While there has been no headway in Ocean City’s efforts to site proposed offshore wind turbines at least 26 miles from the shoreline, for the first time at least formally, the issue of potential impacts on the fertile fishing grounds off the resort coast has been thrown into the equation.

Since the Maryland Public Service Commission over a year ago approved two offshore win energy projects off the coast of Ocean City, town officials have been in a prolonged battle to have the two approved companies construct their first line of wind turbines at least 26 nautical miles off the coast, or a distance perceived to have the turbines not visible from the shoreline. The efforts have included at least two resolutions passed by the Mayor and Council, a spirited letter-writing campaign between the town’s elected officials and the wind farm developers and even a failed attempt to mandate the 26-mile distance for the wind turbines by the Maryland General Assembly.

While much of the wind turbine issues have focused on the proposed distance of the wind turbines from the shoreline and its potential impact sightlines and property values, heretofore there has been little discussion of the possible impact on the resort’s areas vast recreational and commercial fishing industry. Almost certainly, there will be some disruption of commercial and recreational fishing during the construction of the vast wind farms off the Ocean City coast, including some likely area closures.

In the long term, however, the conventional thinking is the future development of wind farms off the coast could enhance fishing with the massive bases of the turbines providing artificial reefs of sort. At this point, however, there are more questions than answers and the issue has not been fully addressed. There is some statistical and empirical information about the positive effects of wind turbines on fishing in some areas where they have already been developed, but the sample size is small at this point and not ample enough on which to hang one’s hat.

Because of the relative unknowns, U.S. Congressman Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), who represents Ocean City and the Eastern Shore, has successfully attached an amendment to the federal fiscal year 2019 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, which would order the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the effects of offshore wind projects on marine mammals and fish as well as the need for any mitigation measures. The amendment was authored by Harris and was passed by the committee.

“Commercial fishing and seafood processing are prominent industries in Maryland’s First District,” he said. “The fishing community has expressed concern that US Wind’s proposed offshore win farm project will harm their fishing operations off the coast of Ocean City.”

Harris, in his statement on the passage of the amendment, said the measure would mandate NOAA to explore the possible impact on offshore wind turbines on the resort’s vast recreational and commercial fishing industries.

“My amendment orders NOAA to study the effects of offshore wind farm construction and operation on marine wildlife as well as the need for any mitigation measures,” he said. “In addition to the several concerns already voiced by the local communities, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service, it is imperative that we fully understand the negative effects on our fisheries that will be caused by this wind farm project.”

Generally, the resort area’s recreational and commercial fishing industries have not taken a formal stance on the proposed wind farms one way or the other, although there has been no shortage or murmuring throughout the fishing community about the possible impacts.

Ocean City Marlin Club president Franky Pettolina said this week board members and officers have decided that the club’s stance on the issue is essentially to take no stance until all of the information is collected.

Speaking as a sportfishing charter boat captain, however, Pettolina said he and others are keeping a close eye on the issue at arms-length for now.

“I just want to be sure that we have as much of the best information available to us before we move forward,” he said. “I am less concerned about barely visible blemishes on the horizon than I am about the potential adverse effects on the marine life and the ocean environment as a whole. Additionally, the potential of area closures will always be a concern to me.”

The approved US Wind project would place turbines as close as 17 miles from shore in the first phase, while the approved Deepwater Wind project would place its turbines in a range of about 17-21 miles offshore, or the western edge of the designated Wind Energy Area (WEA). While the town of Ocean City is said repeatedly it supports clean, renewable offshore wind energy, it does not want the turbines placed in close enough proximity to the shore to impact the viewsheds from the resort.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.