Announcement of Draft Strategy for North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind | Coie Perkins
As the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has accelerated offshore wind development to meet the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, the question of How expanding offshore wind power could affect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW) is under scrutiny. To help answer this question and support the recovery of the endangered NARW and the responsible development of offshore wind energy, BOEM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) have developed a joint draft Right Whale and North Atlantic Offshore Wind Strategy (the Draft Strategy). Released on October 21, 2022, the draft strategy recognizes that offshore wind development has the potential to affect NARW, but that there are significant data gaps to understand these impacts and develop solutions. The draft strategy outlines an ongoing effort to identify and resolve data gaps and lists several avoidance and minimization measures that can be implemented in ongoing and future offshore wind development.
The need for a shared global strategy
BOEM and NOAA Fisheries recognize that offshore wind is a critical energy resource needed to combat the climate crisis, but also observe that NARWs are endangered, high-risk, and currently experiencing an unusual mortality event (or mortality massive) due to man. interaction. The NARW never fully recovered from the commercial whaling industry of the 1800s and 1900s, and they are currently threatened by entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with ships. As a result, NOAA Fisheries considers the resilience of NARW to additional stressors to be low. NOAA Fisheries has previously identified the need to improve knowledge of factors limiting NARW recovery through the NARW Priority Action Plan 2021-2025 and has also assessed threats associated with offshore wind development by the through NOAA Fisheries’ NARW Road to Recovery. These initiatives reflect broader efforts to protect NARW, including proposed changes to the NARW Vessel Speed Rule that would change speed restriction zones, expand the type of vessels subject to speed restrictions and other proposed revisions to help avoid ship strikes. NOAA Fisheries has also worked with stakeholders to reduce fishing gear entanglements, even closing some lobster and Jonas trap fisheries in important NARW habitat.
In the draft strategy, BOEM and NOAA Fisheries state that potential stressors of offshore wind development include increased exposure to noise and/or pressure; entanglement in gear or other developmental aids; increased risk of strikes by vessels involved in offshore wind projects; and habitat climate change. Recognizing these risks, offshore wind developers have initiated research into mitigation measures and even signed agreements with environmental organizations to improve the protection of NARW during construction and operation of the project. However, the draft strategy notes that there are significant data gaps on the effects of offshore wind on NARW, particularly on indirect effects, such as changes in the availability of marine mammal prey.
The draft strategy has three main objectives: (1) mitigation and decision support tools; (2) improved research and monitoring; and (3) collaboration, communication and outreach. The first objective supports the development of mitigation and monitoring measures that are general enough to be implemented in all phases of offshore wind development. It also supports research, development and implementation of soundproofing technologies and soundproofing performance standards to reduce the acoustic impacts of offshore wind development on marine mammals.
The research and monitoring objective focuses on the development and dissemination of a research plan that identifies key data gaps. The plan will detail how to work with partners, stakeholders and other ocean users to fill data gaps; it also supports the development of a long-term Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) network to collect baseline and soundscape data and expand the use of satellite data to track NARW distribution and use. habitat.
To support the goal of collaboration, communication and outreach, BOEM and NOAA Fisheries intend to develop long-term, proactive coordination strategies, including establishing a NOAA and BOEM NARW Strategy Implementation Group and offshore wind turbine, which will be responsible for sharing awareness and communication plans. . Engagement is a key part of the draft strategy, and the implementation group will help coordinate efforts among interested stakeholders. The draft strategy names several government entities, industries, academic and research organizations and non-governmental organizations that will play key roles.
Proposed avoidance and minimization measures
The draft strategy lists several preliminary avoidance and minimization measures, categorized by stage of renewable energy development, to be considered for individual projects. Some measures can be incorporated at the project scale by developers, and others can be implemented at the regional scale by BOEM or NOAA Fisheries.
For existing leases, BOEM will work with NOAA Fisheries during the environmental review of the developers’ construction and operating plans (COPs) to ensure that measures to avoid and minimize impacts on the NARW and the habitat are included as conditions of COP approval. The draft strategy encourages developers to evaluate multiple project design options and focus on identifying designs that avoid and minimize impacts. BOEM notes that they have the authority to suspend operations if new information becomes available indicating that activities authorized by BOEM now result in an imminent threat of serious or irreparable harm or harm to NARW.
The draft strategy also lists avoidance and minimization measures that BOEM and NOAA Fisheries plan to adopt during site characterization, construction and operation. These include: restrictions depending on the time of year on pile-driving activities and the use of high-rise vessels; establishing clearing and stopping areas that are monitored to avoid exposure to noise or other conditions; the use of trained third-party protected species observers; sound field check; reducing the risk of ship strikes through vessel speed reductions and other measures; development of calming guidance and performance standards; implementing routine cleanups of ghost gear and other debris; and developing an adaptive framework to quickly resolve unforeseen issues.
The draft strategy further contemplates preliminary project-specific follow-up actions that will build on data collection before and during the COP approval process. The agencies intend to establish a centralized, publicly accessible data portal to integrate data across projects and inform management decisions. Proposed project-specific actions include: ensuring that all environmental assessments are based on sound baseline data; conduct monitoring to assess the impacts of the physical presence and operation of wind turbines; carry out acoustic monitoring of construction and operating noise; monitor changes in fishing operations and shifts in fishing effort; develop and implement research and monitoring plans to address new and emerging issues and technologies; conduct aerial surveys for at least three years before BOEM begins its environmental review process in the concession areas and surrounding waters to collect sufficient baseline data; conduct continuous archival PAM in and around rental areas; coordinate a regional MAP approach; and monitoring to implement mitigation and determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures.
BOEM and NOAA Fisheries want the draft strategy to reflect a vision shared by all stakeholders interested in the success of offshore wind development and the protection of NARW, with particular emphasis on contributions from government, industry, academia and research organizations, and non-governmental organizations. The draft strategy is a set of guidelines, so it does not identify any new policies or regulatory measures. Ultimately, however, the final strategy will guide the permitting process for offshore wind, as it identifies best practices for data collection and avoidance and mitigation measures. As the draft strategy is intended to be a living document regularly assessed and updated as new data emerges on the interaction between offshore wind and NARW, it is imperative that all interested groups participate early. and often to the elaboration of the final strategy. As an emerging industry, offshore wind is well positioned to strike a balance between reasonable regulation and helping to promote data collection, research and recovery of NARW.
Public comments are expected on the draft strategy by December 4, 2022.