SSA Encouraged by NOAA-BOEM Collaboration on Offshore Wind

As reported in October, SSA Executive Director John Williams sent a letter to NOAA Administrator Dr. Richard Spinrad calling on the agency to work in partnership with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in evaluating offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Mexico. Copied on the September 28, 2021, letter were: NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, Janet Coit; National Ocean Service (NOS) Director, Nicole LeBoeuf; and BOEM Director Amanda Lefton.

SSA’s primary objective in sending this letter was to secure a commitment for NOAA and BOEM to collaborate on the development and implementation of a process that applies state-of-the-art spatial management tools to ensure transparent and objective offshore wind energy siting decisions in the Gulf that are based on the best scientific data and other information available. These tools have been developed and their exceptional quality and utility was recently demonstrated in the publication by NOAA’s National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) of “An Aquaculture Opportunity Area Atlas for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico” (AOA Atlas)

SSA believes that the analytical approach to spatial planning applied by the NCCOS in the AOA Atlas would be the most comprehensive, transparent, objective and, therefore, effective tool for supporting this critical decision-making with the objective of minimizing adverse impacts on the shrimp industry. This includes suitability modeling and mapping of the full range of relevant civilian and military marine activities in the Gulf along with those elements of the marine ecosystem that would be vulnerable to the cumulative impacts of new, wind energy-related ocean stressors. It also provides an excellent opportunity for stakeholder engagement to receive inputs useful to the development of mapping data and performing suitability analyses.

In his November 24, 2021, letter of response NOAA Administrator Spinrad indicates NOAA is in agreement with SSA’s recommendations , Dr. Spinrad cites President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 on Tackling the Climate Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, stating that the Executive Order –
“included the Administration’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 in a way that allows for protection of living marine resources, habitats, fisheries, and fishing communities, including through meaningful stakeholder engagement. To that end, I am committed to working collaboratively with our Federal partners, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), to help fulfill this important charge.In doing so, I understand the need to consider the elements you outline in your letter: analytical approach to spatial planning; using the best available science when analyzing the impacts to living marine resources, habitats, fisheries, and fishing communities; and engaging with affected stakeholders, including the shrimp industry in the Gulf of Mexico.” (emphasis added)

Dr. Spinrad also affirmed the utility of applying the same spatial management approach to offshore wind energy development as was done for offshore aquaculture development in its Gulf of Mexico Atlas which, he states, “provides the highest level of spatial intelligence for the region to date.”

And finally, Dr. Spinrad confirmed that NOAA is working in consultation with BOEM on how to apply this approach to offshore wind development in the Gulf, stating:

“While the Atlas was produced to inform the Aquaculture Opportunity Area (AOA) selection process, its peer-reviewed spatial mapping analyses can be applied to offshore wind development and other ocean industries. It is based on a spatial data inventory of over 200 data layers relevant to administrative boundaries, national security (i.e., military), navigation and transportation, energy and industry infrastructure, commercial and recreational fishing, natural and cultural resources, and oceanography. In consultation with BOEM, NOAA is exploring how to apply the Atlas AOA approach to developing Wind Energy Areas to help avoid or minimize potential conflicts with other activities and user groups.”

SSA deeply appreciates this incredibly important NOAA-BOEM collaboration on a state-of-the-art spatial management approach to offshore wind development in the Gulf which holds the greatest promise for minimizing adverse impacts on the shrimp industry.

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