By Dave Kellam, SeaPlan Communications Manager, dkellam [at] seaplan.org
Once a month for the next five years Captain Rodman Sykes and the crew of the Virginia Marise will be hauling in trawling nets full of fish three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island, RI. The catch is not destined for market, however. Instead, the fish are part of an assessment that promises to be a model for understanding the true impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries from the construction and operation of offshore wind farms.
Andy Lipsky, SeaPlan’s Director of Science and Policy, leads the study in conjunction with CoastalVision, LLC of Newport, RI. The study focuses on the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm, proposed by offshore wind power developer Deepwater Wind. Scheduled for construction in 2014, it will be the first demonstration-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S. The study, now underway, is collecting fish, invertebrate, and hydrographic data every month of the year for five years (two years before construction and three years after) following consistent and standardized sampling procedures. In addition, data is also being collected on the diet of important commercial finfish species inhabiting the project area.
Our team knew that commercial fishermen must be an integral part of the assessment because they not only know how to catch fish, but have an unmatched long-term knowledge of the area.
Captain Sykes is from an old Rhode Island fishing family and has over 40 years of experience fishing out of Point Judith, RI. Lipsky notes that Sykes’ expertise and knowledge are contributing greatly to the survey. “When he shared his annotated charts with us to refine the study design, it was clear to me we were looking at generations of knowledge.” Lipsky adds “This information was hard won and is priceless!”
Fishermen’s participation helps execute the scientifically rigorous work, and their role in the research adds credibility. The Captain puts it simply, “We help the scientists get it ‘right’.”
SeaPlan and CoastalVision are working to fill a data gap in the understanding of possible interactions between industries and how emerging ocean uses may affect fishery resources. Combining traditional knowledge and understanding in the design of the study itself and incorporating commercial fishermen in its execution is helping to ensure the project’s success.
Watch for updates from the boat in future posts.
Dave Kellam is the Communications Manager of SeaPlan, an independent nonprofit ocean science and policy group providing practical solutions to balance development and conservation. Dave specializes in communication analysis, strategic planning, and database design. Disclaimer: the opinions and views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of SeaPlan's partners or associated organizations.