December 30, 2022 — The following is an excerpt from an article originally published by Bloomberg; republished by Saving Seafood; and then republished by MediaWize.
US government scientists warned federal regulators the South Fork offshore wind farm near the Rhode Island coast threatened the Southern New England Cod, a species so ingrained in regional lore that a wooden carving of it hangs in the Massachusetts state house.
The Interior Department approved the project anyway.
The warnings were delivered in unpublished correspondence weeks before Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management authorized the 12-turbine South Fork plan in November 2021. And they serve to underscore the potential ecological consequences and environmental tradeoff of a coming offshore wind boom along the US East Coast. President Joe Biden wants the US to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by the end of the decade.
Concerns about South Fork, the 132-megawatt project being developed by Orsted AS and Eversource Energy, focused on its overlap with Cox Ledge, a major spawning ground for cod and “sensitive ecological area that provides valuable habitat for a number of federally managed fish species,” a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant regional administrator said in an October 2021 letter to Interior Department officials. Based on in-house expertise and peer-reviewed science, the agency said “this project has a high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.”
The Interior Department took some steps to blunt impacts on Atlantic cod, including by carving out some areas of Cox Ledge from leasing. Developers, who are required to monitor cod activity at the site from November through the end of March, plan to adjust work plans to avoid any spotted spawning areas. And the final South Fork plan was scaled down from 15 turbines to 12 after warnings from NOAA.
Still, the oceanic agency faulted the Interior Department for shrugging off other recommendations to protect cod, saying the bureau had based some decisions on flawed assumptions not supported by science. That includes a decision to not block pile driving at the very start of the spawning season in November, even though NOAA said the noise could deter the activity and force some cod to abandon the area.