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Wind Cable’s Effects on Bony Fish ‘Negligible’

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 14:38

The exposure of bony fish including bluefish and striped bass to electromagnetic fields emanating from an offshore wind farm’s export cable would be rare and of negligible consequence, according to an evaluation by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The evaluation of potential impacts on species of commercial or recreational fishing important in southern New England waters was published at the behest of the East Hampton Town Trustees.

“The operation of offshore wind energy projects is not expected to negatively affect commercial and recreational fishes within the southern New England area,” the report concludes. “Negligible effects, if any, on bottom-dwelling species are anticipated. No negative effects on pelagic species,” those that swim in the water column, “are expected due to their distance from the power cables buried in the seafloor.”

Last month, the trustee John Aldred told his colleagues that BOEM had answered a 2018 request for a field study on the effects of EMF on migratory fish by authorizing a search of already available literature on the subject. The report, an aggregation of existing studies, is pertinent to South Fork fishermen, who have expressed concern that the cable delivering electricity from the proposed South Fork Wind Farm to landfall within the town could alter fish distribution or disrupt migratory patterns of commercially important species.

Slightly less than a third of the species important to commercial and recreational anglers in or around the southern New England area are electro-sensitive, according to the report. To date, all proposed offshore wind energy projects in the United States plan to use alternating current, or A.C., electricity with a frequency of 60 Hz, the same as onshore electrical systems that power buildings, the report states. “Most fishery species in the southern New England area are bony fishes, which have not evolved to detect EMF at 60 Hz,” it says.

The export cable from the South Fork Wind Farm, to be sited approximately 35 miles off Montauk pending approval by federal, state, and local authorities, is to be buried four to six feet under the sea floor. “As EMF from undersea power cables decrease rapidly with distance from the cable, burying the undersea cables substantially reduces the levels of magnetic and induced electric fields in seawater,” the evaluation states. But in areas where burying the cable is impossible, it is to be covered with concrete mats, which “does not achieve the same level of EMF reduction as burial and distance.” 

“Skates, because of their bottom-dwelling habitat preference, would be the most likely of the regional fishery species to potentially detect electric fields,” the report states. Eight bottom-dwelling, or demersal, species of commercially or recreationally important species in southern New England waters, which would be found in closest proximity to EMF emanating from a wind farm’s export cable, are electro-sensitive or magneto-sensitive, the report states. Seven are skates, the other is the American lobster. But EMF decays quickly with distance from the cable, minimizing potential exposure, the report concludes.

“The 28 pelagic species,” including 12 shark species, “are less likely to come close to buried power cables during normal migratory or foraging activities,” according to the report. There would be no adverse effects on pelagic species, it concluded.

“The bottom line,” Mr. Aldred said of BOEM, “is their perspective seems to be they feel as though there’s a negligible effect on the fish we’re talking about: migratory fish harvested commercially and recreationally.”

“Personally, I came away from it grateful they did all this work, and put this together,” he said, but added, “I still think that a field study along Long Island shores, with our particular situations, would go a long way toward satisfying the concerns of the industry.”

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