NOAA Fisheries scientists and colleagues have started a three-year study of Atlantic cod and other commercial fish species in Southern New England. Their goal is to gather baseline data to address how offshore wind development in the region could affect these animals.
An autonomous underwater glider is surveying areas in and around Cox’s Ledge. This includes the South Fork wind energy lease area south of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The glider has a hydrophone to detect fish spawning sounds and an acoustic telemetry receiver to detect tagged fish. The receiver will identify location and seasonal occurrence of hotspots for key commercial and federally listed fish species.
Study area on the southern New England continental shelf, with a focus on Block island Sound and Cox Ledge. The orange polygon is the South Fork wind lease area. Spawning cod have been captured in this area between December and March on previous tagging trips.
According to project lead Sofie Van Parijs, there is little information on Atlantic cod spawning specific to Southern New England waters. Cod elsewhere are known to form large, dense spawning aggregations in predictable locations relatively close to shore, where they can be vulnerable to disturbance that might affect spawning success. Van Parijs also heads the Passive Acoustics Research Group at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
“Biological sampling will determine the population’s onset of spawning and track growth, maturity, age structure, and other life history parameters,” Van Parijs said. “This information will help inform the starting date for our glider surveys each year. We will tentatively conduct these surveys from December through March this year and for longer periods in the subsequent two years.”
Researchers will tag up to 100 spawning cod with acoustic transmitters that the glider can detect to identify areas where spawning is occurring. Sensors on the glider will also collect detailed environmental data to better understand the temperature preferences and habitat use of Atlantic cod off Southern New England.