NOAA Fisheries scientists begin collecting data on commercial fish species in wind energy lease areas

Photo: NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries scientists and colleagues have started a three-year study of Atlantic cod and other commercial fish species in Southern New England with the goal of gathering baseline data to address how offshore wind development in the region could affect these animals.

An autonomous underwater glider has begun surveying areas in and around Cox’s Ledge, which 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 hotspots for key commercial and federally listed fish species.

According to project lead Sofie Van Parijs, there is little information on Atlantic cod spawning specific to Southern New England waters. 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 affect spawning success.

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.

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 lease area.

The array tracks movements and residency patterns of spawning cod, and will be expanded in the future.

NOAA Fisheries added that Danish power company Ørsted expects to begin construction of a wind farm in the South Fork lease area in 2021.

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