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Researchers study effects of Block Island Wind Farm on fishing

European wind farm developers say their industry can coexist with fishing and are tapping scientists to make their case.

Tracey Dalton of the University of Rhode Island is studying how the only offshore wind farm running in the U.S. is affecting fishermen there.

Her team is still gathering data, but she says some sportfishermen are reporting that the five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm might actually be attracting fish, as an artificial reef does, according to WBUR, the Boston National Public Radio station.

“A lot of charter boat captains are now taking people out for tours of the wind turbines or they’re targeting fish around the turbines," Dalton told WBUR. "So that’s kind of an interesting change in how the area is being used.”

Dalton said commercial fishermen, on the other hand, are skeptical. There have been few long-term studies of how wind farms affect fisheries after they’re up and running.

And the Block Island Wind Farm has just five turbines. Meeting Massachusetts’ energy goals could mean hundreds more. That could make some parts of the East Coast look more like the English coast, where offshore wind farms are an increasingly common sight.

John Nichols, who helps run the fishermen’s association in Massachusetts, said that 10 years ago fishermen in Europe thought an offshore wind farm was a pipe dream. But by the time they got together to oppose it, it was too late.

Nichols said New England’s fishermen should not waste time fighting wind-farm developers. Instead, he said, they should form fishermen's associations to increase their bargaining power.

"You can’t work against them. You’ve got to work with them," Nichols said. "But if you’re one fisherman going to a developer, he won’t have any time for you. But if you’re, in our case 40-plus boats, then they will listen to you. And I think that’s the most important thing: strong, it can be small, but strong associations."

Some fishermen in the U.S. are taking their fight to court. In September a group of fishing organizations sued to stop a wind farm planned off the coast of New York.

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