Friday, February 15, 2013

If wind blows, will fish grow? – Part 2

The presentations and discussions on day 2 of the Offshore Wind – Understanding Impacts on Great Lakes Fishery and Other Aquatic Resources Workshop* addressed issues of aquatic habitats and fish in the Great Lakes. Jason Breck (Univ. Michigan Institute for Fisheries Research) gave a live demonstration of his web-based Lakebed Alteration Decision Support Tool (, which can be used to quickly find suitable habitat for wind farms in the Great Lakes. Drs. Dmitry Beletsky (Univ. Michigan), Nathan Hawley and Jia Wang (NOAA GLERL) reviewed physical characteristics of Great Lakes habitats that would affect wind farm development and operation, including currents, wind, waves, sediment transport, depth, and ice formation and climate.

Interesting biological work was presented by Dr. John Janssen (Univ. Wisconsin at Milwaukee) who has been studying lake trout reproduction on Lake Michigan’s mid-lake reef complex, an area proposed for wind farm development; Chris Vandergroot (Ohio DNR), who discussed intra- and inter-lake movements of walleye that may be affected by wind farm construction or operation, and Dr. Preston Wilson (Univ. Texas at Austin) who is using bubble screens to reduce sound transmission in water generated by wind farm construction and operation. Dr. Winter reported results of experimental work that indicates fish larvae are extremely sensitive to sound generated from construction or operation of wind farms, in contrast to field research reporting relatively benign impacts of wind farms on adult stages of fish. For example, Dr. Arthur Popper (Univ. Maryland) has shown that fish larvae can suffer physical damage and physiological stress from noise generated during wind farm operation. Halvorsen et al. (2012) reported sound thresholds for injury in juvenile Chinook salmon that are exceeded by construction of wind farms. Noise generated by anchoring pylons into hard bottom also was reported on sole larvae.

I left the conference feeling encouraged that there may be enough known about impacts of wind farm development on fisheries resources to make informed decisions about where and how to construct wind farms in the Great Lakes. The European colleagues provided a wealth of information based on experience and research. Many of the fish species discussed by the European visitors are ecologically similar to species that occur in the Great Lakes, including brown trout, zander (walleye), European perch (yellow perch), sculpin (mottled sculpin), and vendace (lake whitefish, cisco). Based on earlier work on development of hydropower and nuclear power plants in the United States, there is a sound modeling framework to infer impacts of wind farm development on fish populations. However, more research needs to be conducted on wind farm impacts on birds, bats and sensitive early life stages of fish. Indeed, concerned citizen Marg Dochoda of Wolf Island Ontario noted plans for wind farm development in Lake Ontario’s eastern shore, where impacts of onshore wind farms on birds already are being observed. Compared to filling relatively few science knowledge gaps, the policy issues of wind farm development for fisheries resources and fisheries are significant and may take longer to resolve.

Fisheries issues in the Great Lakes must be vetted and approved by consent of the International Joint Commission and Lake Councils convened through The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). The Council of Lake Committees, through the GLFC, has issued a position statement on wind farm development and Great Lakes fisheries, which notes the potential significant impacts of wind farms on lake habitats, fish and fishers. Comparison of the CLC’s position statement ( with information provided by European colleagues at the most recent workshop suggests the most important issues to resolve to ensure sustainability of fisheries resources may be addressed by monitoring impacts to fisheries resources before, during and after construction and operation of wind farms, and by gaining consensus from fisheries managers and stakeholders.

Dr. Edward Rutherford

Research Fishery Biologist

* The main financial partners were the Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, DT Energy and National Wildlife Federation.

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