Ørsted partners with Rutgers and Monmouth universities for fisheries monitoring program in N.J.

Ocean Wind 1 funds almost $13M in fisheries monitoring surveys

Rutgers University, Monmouth University and Delaware State University are collaborating with Ocean Wind 1 to implement fisheries monitoring surveys as part of an extensive Fisheries Monitoring Plan.

Through a $13 million investment, Ocean Wind 1, New Jersey’s first offshore wind project, will monitor for potential changes to fisheries in a wind-energy area using “eDNA” — a crime scene investigation-style approach to marine detection. This procedure has emerged as a more humane and less expensive means of studying fish populations than traditional methods that require their capture.

The FMP includes a suite of seven fisheries monitoring surveys — including a first-of-its-kind study for offshore wind in the U.S. on environmental DNA, or eDNA — that will monitor and assess the abundance of the fish community, as well as the biodiversity that exists in the Ocean Wind 1 lease area.

Led by a team of research scientists, the monitoring fieldwork began prior to construction and will be carried out over a six-year period on local commercial fishing vessels through all phases of project construction, including during and after construction activities.

The eDNA work, led by Monmouth University scientists, involves extracting genetic materials from the ocean to determine whether the development of wind turbines and infrastructure has an impact on fish populations. Those genetic materials include cells and bodily fluids that fish leave behind when swimming that can be collected, analyzed and matched to the genetic barcodes of other fish to determine their species.

“Sampling for eDNA is especially effective for detecting uncommon, endangered or otherwise hard to catch species in the waters,” Monmouth University endowed associate professor of marine science and project co-lead Jason Adolf said. “There’s a degree of luck involved in trawling for fish, just as when you cast a line at your local lake. The genetic materials in the water can tell you a lot about what you didn’t catch.”

The Monmouth team will sample the waters before, during and after construction for DNA shed by marine life and compare the findings with data gathered through traditional trawls and fish tagging methods.

The fisheries monitoring approaches were identified and developed by the participating scientists at Rutgers and Monmouth universities as those most appropriate for the lease area and will utilize a variety of traditional and innovative survey methodologies, including trawls, baited remote underwater video cameras, chevron fish traps, gliders and towed video cameras, as well as mobile and passive acoustic telemetry.

“The structure of this part of the ocean, the Middle Atlantic Bight continental shelf, is unique among oceanic provinces due to its extreme seasonal temperature range and vertical layering. Migration and ranging are an important part of fish life cycles here as a result, and this makes it challenging to tease out responses to the wind farm specifically,” lead principal investigator Thomas Grothues, associate research professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences of Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, stated.

Developed by Ørsted and Public Service Enterprise Group, Ocean Wind 1 will be located 15 miles off the coast of southern New Jersey. At 1,100 megawatts, Ocean Wind 1 will provide clean energy to 500,000 homes in New Jersey, deliver thousands of jobs and advance supply chain initiatives while helping the state meet its clean energy goals.

Ørsted funded similar research through an independent scientific contractor to study pre-construction, construction and operational impacts to fisheries resources at America’s first offshore wind farm, Block Island Wind. The results from that trawl study were published in March 2022 and found no major adverse impacts to marine life throughout the process.