TOMS RIVER — Hunched over a laptop, Jeff Dement pointed to a virtual map showing lease areas for offshore wind off New Jersey’s coast.
He clicked on the legend and added a layer showing where scallop fishing overlaps with potential turbine locations.
“You could do this for days,” said Dement, fish tagging program director for the American Littoral Society, as he gave a tutorial of an online data portal published by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean.
A few anglers gathered behind him inside a conference room in the Ocean County Library, where offshore wind developers and fishers met Wednesday evening to discuss how the two groups can lessen proposed wind projects’ disturbance of wildlife.
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Three offshore wind firms — Equinor, Orsted and EDF Renewables — have submitted applications to the state to build in federal waters, but where they construct turbines and place cables on the ocean floor can impact fisheries and anglers’ access to certain species.
“We’re really putting our trust in these companies,” Dement said.
The goal: collect and use data to avoid prime fishing areas and migratory pathways.
Paul Eidman, of Anglers for Offshore Wind Power, emphasized the importance of giving fishermen a seat at the table.
“Recreational fishers have got to be engaged early,” said Eidman.
Some research has been done on the footprint of certain trawls and where certain species reside. The MARCO portal is one starting point, but developers have gathered data as well.
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Stephen Drew, fisheries liaison for Equinor Wind U.S., said the company has mapped the migratory path of clam dredgers and squid trawlers. The company has a lease to build 17 miles off Sandy Hook, with construction possible in 2022.
“We’re soliciting feedback from fishers on draft turbine spots and cable routes,” Drew said.
It’s not known how every species will be affected in New Jersey, but offshore wind representatives said fishers could soon look to the Block Island wind farm off Rhode Island for some answers. Deepwater Wind, the company behind the wind farm, hired a team of scientists to study the effects of the turbines on fish and shellfish during and after construction.
The companies assured fishers they would have access to the waters where turbines are built. Each firm is leasing spots in federal waters from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
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“As developers, we don’t own the ocean. We just have rights to build there,” said Kris Ohleth, senior manager of stakeholder engagement at Orsted. The Danish company plans to build a wind farm about 10 miles off Atlantic City’s coast, creating 1,000 jobs for its three years of construction.
However, she said there may be restrictions near substations and during construction. The federal Office of Homeland Security could also restrict access given a national emergency.
By July, the state Board of Public Utilities will make its decision on which companies will receive ratepayer subsidies for projects. In addition to Orsted, EDF Renewables is also seeking to build off Atlantic City in a joint venture with Shell and will begin surveying the sea floor in the summer.
The lifespan for wind farms is 25 years. After that time, most fishers want the bases of turbines to be turned into artificial reefs to promote marine life.
Each firm needs to submit a decommissioning plan to the state detailing how the turbines will be dismantled at the end of the federal leases, the companies said.
“We want to do our best to coexist,” Ohleth said. “We’re not here to build a wind farm and then leave.”