Wind farm expansion increases pressure on grounds

Calls for co-existence to head off displacement effects

Growing pressure on marine space and the impact of offshore wind farms on the fishing industry came under the spotlight last week, reports Tim Oliver. 

Representatives from both sectors explained to parliamentarians and other interests the challenges of pressure on marine space, the issues around co-existence, and the need for engagement from the earliest stages of wind farm development through to completion and thereafter. 

At an online meeting organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Fisheries, NFFO assistant chief executive Dale Rodmell stressed that the rapid expansion of wind farms and other pressures on marine space such as MPAs had great implications for the fishing industry and fishing grounds. 

He pointed out that the UK currently has 10.5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore generating capacity, but the government is planning for this to increase to 40GW of fixed capacity and 1GW of floating turbine capacity by 2030, and possibly to overall capacity of 140GW by 2050. 

The EU is also looking at a potential capacity of up to 350GW in its waters by 2050, and 80GW of that will be in the North Sea. 

Other encroachments on space such as increasing numbers of various types of cables and associated installations, MPAs and highly protected MPAs, aggregate dredging and mariculture were leading to ‘an extremely crowded marine space’. 

“Co-existence is becoming an increasing critical issue to our sector, and rapidly so,” Dale Rodmell told the meeting. 

“We recognise the impetus of climate change and the need to reach net zero and the role offshore wind plays in that, and indeed the legitimate uses of the seas for other purposes than fishing.  

“From our perspective, we want to have a good planned system that takes into account the needs of existing fisheries, so we don’t have a system that results in systematic displacement of fishing activities and indeed all the impacts that would come from that on fishing communities.”  

Stressing the need for co-existence with the offshore industry from the start of projects, he said: “The greatest challenge for marine planning is to effectively prioritise co-existence so that it is built into project design, as opposed to a bolt-on consideration towards the end of the planning process.

“I hope to see greater up-front collaboration in site selection and the design of projects in the future.”

Another of the three speakers at the meeting, Dickon Howell, director of Howell Marine Consulting, gave an overview of the policy landscape. “The marine planning process needs clear guidance and understanding of the interactions between the two industries, and the implications for policy and decision-making,” he said.

Courtney French, commercial fisheries manager at Ørsted, outlined how the company had successfully worked with the fishing industry and its hopes for the future. “We hope for more open and transparent communications, continuing early engagement, and work to build on the good relations already established,” she said. 

“Ideally, I would like the fishing industry, offshore wind developers and government to work together to improve the site selection and marine spatial planning process with the aim of prioritising co-existence of some capacity.”

She said the greatest challenge for reconciling fisheries and offshore wind was marine spatial planning, and also trust from both sides that co-existence can and does happen between offshore wind and fisheries.

Impact assessment

It was pointed out during the question session that followed the presentations that impact assessments of offshore projects rarely consider the impact of displacement and the cumulative effects on the fishing industry. The panel was asked how this could change.

Dickon Howell said that the issue of cumulative assessment was challenging to understand, but must be considered in the decision-making process. Spatial displacement was easier to understand, provided the fishing data was accessible. 

Dale Rodmell said there remained a lack of understanding of what spatial requirements are being made to meet energy targets. He said sectors inevitably prioritised their own sectors during sectoral planning, and fishing spatial needs were often lower priority in planning decisions. 

Understanding the sensitivities regarding loss of access to fishing grounds and trade-offs between different sectors was needed, he said.

Dale Rodmell said that liaison at a grassroots level would prove beneficial in the future, and it should take place as early as possible to ensure that the location and design of projects were compatible with skippers’ needs. He noted that fishers’ feedback is not incorporated into design as much as they would like, particularly with regards to cable laying.

Courtney French was asked whether Ørsted has looked into the capacity of using offshore wind farms to help improve biodiversity and potential fishing by stocking certain species such as shellfish.

She detailed European projects that aim to increase cod stocks, the creation of boulder reefs – including at Westermost Rough off the Yorkshire coast – and contributions towards the construction of the Bridlington lobster hatchery. 

She noted that the hatchery does not have the direct purpose of increasing stocks, but said there was potential for surplus juveniles from scientific research to be added to the wind farms’ scour protection, a project they are investigating alongside the Holderness Fishing Industry Group.

On the possibility of co-locating other activities within wind farms such as mariculture of shellfish, she said Ørsted had carried out feasibility studies for oyster seeding at Gunfleet Sands. This had shown such projects wouldn’t be successful, but there were hopes other sites could be more promising. 

Asked for some specific examples of where potting activity co-exists with offshore wind, Dale Rodmell said Westermost Rough had shown that potting can take place within wind farms despite initial fears, due to compatibility with the activity, the relationship between the associations directly involved, and strong collaboration.

He was also asked how the risk of undersea cables becoming uncovered could be managed. He said that a better understanding of how to deploy cables in different environments (e.g. seabed composition, desired depth, physical processes, etc) is needed, along with managing those exposures when they occur.

Lowestoft MP and APPG secretary Peter Aldous, who chaired the event, said: “It is essential that we use our marine environment in the fairest and most responsible way. Only through different sectors working together, and listening to one another, can this be brought about. 

“This APPG session showed that this process is underway, and was a great vehicle for advancing the discussion.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here. 

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