Aquaculture & Fisheries

Scientists Collecting Data on Commercial Fish Species in Wind-Energy Areas

An underwater glider can detect fish and other marine life in an area and provide near real-time alerts. (Christopher McGuire/TNC)

Scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, have started a three-year study of Atlantic cod and other commercial fish species in southern New England waters. The goal is to gather baseline data to address how offshore wind development in the region could impact fisheries.

An autonomous underwater glider is surveying areas in and around Cox’s Ledge. This area includes the South Fork wind-energy lease area south of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The glider has a hydrophone to detect fish spawning sounds and an acoustic telemetry receiver to detect tagged fish. The receiver will identify location and seasonal occurrence of hot spots for key commercial and federally listed fish species.

There is little information on Atlantic cod spawning specific to southern New England, according to project lead Sofie Van Parijs. Cod elsewhere are known to form large, dense spawning aggregations in predictable locations relatively close to shore, where they can be vulnerable to disturbance that might impact spawning success.

“Biological sampling will determine the population’s onset of spawning and track growth, maturity, age structure, and other life history parameters,” said Van Parijs, who heads the Passive Acoustics Research Group at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. “This information will help inform the starting date for our glider surveys each year. We will tentatively conduct these surveys from December through March this year and for longer periods in the subsequent two years.”

Researchers will tag up to 100 spawning cod with acoustic transmitters that the glider can detect to identify areas where spawning is occurring. Sensors on the glider will also collect detailed environmental data to better understand the temperature preferences and habitat use of Atlantic cod off southern New England.

A glider deployed in late December has been at sea for three months, surveying the area three times, detecting whale vocalizations and fish carrying acoustic tags. Denmark’s Ørsted power company will use glider detection of endangered whales to help with their monitoring and mitigation requirements for the South Fork Wind Farm. Construction of the offshore wind facility could begin as early as 2021.

A new near real-time telemetry system is operating, detecting whales and fish.

Researchers are using local vessels to conduct the field work for this project. They have deployed an array of 10 bottom-mounted acoustic telemetry receivers in and around the South Fork wind-energy lease area. This array tracks movements and residency patterns of spawning cod, and will be expanded in the future.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is funding the project. Participating organizations include: NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries; The Nature Conservancy; University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science & Technology; NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office; and Rutgers University.

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