President Trump last year commented that he never understood wind. I can relate.
But I do know fish. And I know they like to hang out around objects that humans stick into the seafloor.
Anyone who has fished Gulf of Mexico oil platforms knows that the cliché “fish magnet” applies to these rigs. A leading fisheries scientist, Dr. Bob Shipp, has postulated that a major factor in the burgeoning red snapper population is all that artificial structure. At least it starts as artificial.
In an amazingly short time, the columns and metal framework become covered in corals and support thriving ecosystems. That means fish, large and small. Without rigs, anglers would have much less success fishing the generally flat and featureless Gulf of Mexico seafloor.
That doesn’t apply only to huge, complex rigs. Often a single pole sticking out of the water can attract cobia, tripletail or other species.
Too bad anglers who fish off the Northeast coast don’t have such structures to aggregate gamefish and dramatically increase fishing success.
But they soon will.
Five offshore wind turbines dot the waters off Block Island, Rhode Island, with more planned or in development off New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and as far south as North Carolina.
Western Europe is far ahead of the United States when it comes to offshore wind farms. And as you might expect, scientists have documented these structures to be quickly and heavily populated with fish and other marine life.
The Block Island Wind Farm — completed in 2016 as the Northeast’s first commercial wind farm — is becoming increasingly productive for anglers. A local fishing magazine calls it a “magnet” and a “blossoming fluke hot spot.”
Not far behind is the Empire Wind, which is in the early stages, with plans to place 68 turbines in waters from 60 to 130 feet deep off Long Island. The group Anglers for Offshore Wind Power predicts that “recreational anglers with boats from all over the New York and New Jersey Bight will have open access to the wind farms, which will serve as massive artificial reefs,” attracting black sea bass, tautog, scup, bluefish, summer flounder, cod and tuna.
Certainly, access is key. Anglers have not been denied the opportunity to fish the Block Island turbines, and wind farm developers generally have shown no inclination to restrict access to these structures for fishing. I suspect that in the coming years, dozens of these wind turbines will be a huge factor in improving coastal sportfishing in the Northeast.
Recognizing that offshore wind energy holds tremendous potential, the American Sportfishing Association last summer issued a position statement that says the group believes wind farms have the “potential to benefit the recreational fishing community” and suggests topics for consideration going forward.
The first of these is access, with a recommendation that anglers be allowed to fish near energy infrastructure “to the maximum extent possible,” and calling on developers to include access plans. The ASA also recommends a monitoring plan for offshore wind energy to measure any ecosystem impacts. (To see the complete statement, search on “wind” at asafishing.org.)
Of course, I am sidestepping the messy politics and other concerns surrounding offshore wind energy, with many players — the wind industry, oil industry, environmental groups and others — working to advocate or limit their development. One anglers’ group has even called for an immediate cessation of all offshore wind farm development.
But most enthusiasts who have even the slightest knowledge of fish-aggregating devices, and what they can mean for fishing success, would agree that the promise offshore wind structures hold for anglers is enormous. ASA’s cautionary and cautiously optimistic approach is clearly the path the recreational community needs at this point.
Doug Olander is the editor of Fishing & Travel magazine. He was editor-in-chief of Sport Fishing magazine for more than 25 years until regular publication ceased with the March 2020 issue.