The United States (Northeast)

Applying Multi-use to Respond to Coastal Community Needs while Sustaining a Healthy Ecosystem


In the next 10 years more than 2,000 wind turbines will likely be constructed along the Atlantic coastline. In the Northeast, although the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island state waters is the only established wind farm, at least 7 commercial lease blocks  have been purchased by various developers, with more leases being identified in the Gulf of Maine. Promoting the co-existence of offshore wind and other more traditional uses could be an effective tool to meet the energy, food, and recreational demands of coastal communities, while considering the sustainable health of this rich ecosystem.  Already this offshore region is heavily used by commercial (both mobile and fixed gear) and recreational fishing, shipping, and tourism. The defense industry, and research and academic institutions are also active in executing military exercises and research and undersea technology development, respectfully.

The multi-use focus of this effort will allow resource users, regulators, practitioners and others to identify and implement technical, policy, and process strategies to minimize conflict and encourage synergies amongst these different activities.

To foster international collaboration and knowledge, this case study will be paired with the Swedish case led by the Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm (KTH). The introduction of offshore wind farms is a common theme across both cases, and it is anticipated that lessons learned on how to plan for offshore wind installations in combination with other uses will be a key focus of this exchange.

Major challenges that may be addressed in this project include:

How can we overcome legal and possibly technological hurdles to allow the harvesting of mussels and other food sources growing on the turbines?

Is it possible for tourism, including wind turbine sightseeing and fishing tours, to take advantage of the increased abundance of natural resources attracted to the wind turbines while also contributing to data collection (citizen science) for research and monitoring?

Can we apply technological solutions that allow mobile and fixed fishing activities to operate safely within the new wind farms?

Use combination scenarios for the Northeast Case Study  

Scenario 1

Offshore wind farms and tourism: Recreational fishing, including charter trips and fishing tournaments, and wildlife/wind farm sightseeing tours will likely increase once wind farms are constructed.  This scenario will determine if the turbines could be either sited or constructed to attract more fish and potentially minimize navigational risk due to the increased boat traffic in the area.  This scenario will also consider if this increased boating activity can contribute to data collection through citizen science programs.  Additional economic, educational and citizen science activities within the wind farms will nurture stronger informed advocates for the appropriate growth of offshore renewable energy.  In addition, the tourism sector will recognize the value-add turbines offer to the existing fish habitat.  

Block Island Wind Farm, First in the Nation. Deepwater Wind

Scenario 2

Offshore wind farms and commercial fishing: Currently the proposed siting scenarios for the Northeast wind farms will potentially reduce the amount and type (e.g. mobile gear) of fishing that takes place in these areas.  This scenario will consider strategies including proposing alternative siting plans, minimizing navigational risks, and identifying alternative gear and boat types that will allow fishing to remain within this area of the ocean.  This scenario will allow for traditional maritime uses to continue, while encouraging other uses like offshore wind. 

How will this information be used?

Representatives from government, local and regional business, and research institutions (see below) have formally agreed to participate in the development of these scenarios with the expectation that results will contribute to responding to current and long-term economic, environmental, and use conflict the region is facing.  In addition, many of these organizations are networked with similar programs nationally, which will allow for results to be communicated and possibly applied more broadly.  Results could also potentially be incorporated into existing planning efforts.  The Northeast Ocean Plan, for example summarizes the ocean planning process and is a guide for agency decisions and practices that advance progress toward regional goals for the management of our public ocean resources.  BOEM is considering the cumulative impacts of offshore wind in the Northeast and beyond in its Vineyard Wind 1 Offshore Wind Energy Project Supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement which lays out BOEM’s thinking about cumulative effects of offshore wind wihtin the area.   In addition all four states (MaineNew HampshireMassachusetts, and Rhode Island) all have coastal managment plans which frequently amended for state waters.

Lead & contact

University of Rhode Island

  • Jennifer McCann
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  • JP Walsh
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  • Claire Hodson
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  • Dawn Kotowicz
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