The “Public Perceptions of Offshore Wind farm Developments in Scotland” consultation failed to ask questions on the impact on marine wildlife

The “Public Perceptions of Offshore Wind farm Developments in Scotland” consultation failed to ask questions on the impact on the fishing industry and marine wildlife

Net Zero carbon emissions for Scotland by 2045

The impact of offshore wind farms on the fishing industry and the marine environment has been notably absent in a consultation held on behalf of the Scottish government.

The consultation report, “Public Perceptions of Offshore Wind farm Developments in Scotland” failed to ask those surveyed, their perceptions on the possible damage that offshore wind farm (OWF) might have on the fishing industry and the marine environment.

Instead, the consultation focused on the social impacts of offshore wind farms; “highlighting positive opportunities and helping mitigate negative impacts to local communities and the wider public”.

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As the future of traditional fishing communities hang in the balance due to the spatial squeeze from such offshore energy developments and the onslaught of marine protected areas (MPAs), the Scottish government pushes on with plans to make Scotland a ‘net zero society’ by 2045, with 50% of the overall energy supply being supplied by renewable sources by 2030.

For the fishing industry, it is difficult to see the positives of offshore renewable energies (OREs) as they compete with marine space, but the fleets stand to lose valuable fish breeding and fish catching grounds as the gold rush gathers momentum.

The economic threat that OREs have to the commercial fishing industry fails to be addressed and the public are ignorant to the critical issue.

The result from the consultation shows that between 2019 and 2021 public support for OREs has risen but there has been a slight drop in the perceived social value of commercial fishing. The perceived economic value of fishing has increased between 2019 and 2021 but feelings towards OREs increased significantly more.

The consultation fails to ask the question on what the public perceive what will happen to the fishing industry when it is displaced by OREs.

Speaking to The Fishing Daily on the outcome of the consultation, Executive Officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Sheila Keith said:

“Having read through this report its finding says that 83% of respondents say that commercial fishing has a social value to local communities and 82% say there is an economic value in having commercial fishing in the local community. When comparing the views of respondents between 2019 and 2021 the social and economic impact of fishing is rated higher in 2021 than in 2019, showing a growing appreciation for the value of fishing to local communities.  Scottish respondents under 35 years of age rated commercial fishing and fish farming of greater importance than those over 65 years old. There is no surprise that most respondents approve of windfarm development given the current energy crisis and environmental need to move from fossil fuels. The report states that 86% of respondents who say they visit the coast to eat seafood also approve of offshore wind farms.

“Therefore, the report could be summarised to say that the respondents have a strong recognition of the benefits, both socially and economically, of commercial fishing to local communities but have not been asked about the potential impacts that offshore windfarm developments may have on commercial fishing. The report is sorely lacking in questioning whether respondents believe there would be a negative impact on the social and economic value of commercial fishing to their local community and whether that would be detrimental to their approval/view of offshore wind farms. Given the appreciation of the value of fishing to local communities, particularly in the under 35s in Scotland, public opinions would have been different if they had of been presented with the disbenefits from offshore wind on commercial fishing.   My conclusion is that this report does not go anyway near identifying how the public view potential impacts on the provision of the highly nutritious, low-carbon seafood that 86% of them visit the coast to eat.”

The Scottish government is seeming more concerned about net zero results on emissions rather than the future of the fishing industry or the marine environment which is a valuable source of food security for the nation.

On a visit to Aberdeen Bay, Net Zero and Energy Secretary Michael Matheson said:

“Scotland has the resources, the people and the ambition to become a renewables powerhouse. ScotWind puts us at the forefront of the global development of offshore wind and represents a massive step forward in our net zero transformation.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity which has to be realised, has to be maximised and has to deliver the environmental and economic benefits for all the people of Scotland.

“This study shows that the vast majority of people in Scotland, including our coastal communities who live closest to offshore wind farms, understand and value the diverse benefits that offshore renewable energy presents.

“Already one of the cheapest forms of energy, it is clear that offshore wind has a vital role to play in delivering on our climate obligations, ensuring our energy security and ensuring a fair and just transition to net zero.” (Source)

NatureScot Chief Executive Francesca Osowska backs the development of OREs and said:

“Offshore wind energy will play a major role in Scotland’s pathway to net zero. This important study confirms that most coastal communities and visitors are positive about the sector as we embark on this critical transition.

“This research will help us plan future developments and guide our advice on the ScotWind proposals, as we work to support the growth in offshore wind generation while safeguarding nature and minimising landscape impacts.” (Source)

When Marine Scotland was asked why the public was not asked about their concerns over the damage OREs might cause to the marine environment, they replied:

“This survey focused on the social impacts of offshore wind farms; highlighting positive opportunities and helping mitigate negative impacts to local communities and the wider public.

“We have previously explored public attitudes to the marine environment in the marine social attitudes survey and looked at this survey when designing the Public Perceptions of Offshore Wind Farm Developments (PPOWF) survey. Maintaining good environmental status for all of Scotland’s seas is a top priority for the Scottish Government, and in the PPOWF survey there is a question about environmental concern (figure 13).

“More information on our environmental targets are set out in the Bute House Agreement – including the designation of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) covering at least 10% of Scotland’s inshore and offshore waters by 2026.” 

Having read the outcome of the marine social attitudes survey, it fails to mention public concern over the impact of OREs on the marine environment.

Marine Scotland says that the Scottish Government is involved in:

·       the ecological consequences of offshore wind (ECOWind) programme, led by UK Research and Innovation, and we will keep you informed of future announcements soon

·       the Predators and Prey Around Renewables Energy Developments (PrePARED) project, investigating how seabirds, marine mammals and fish change their behaviours in response to offshore wind development

·       feeding into the Scottish Marine Energy Research (ScotMER) programme’s evidence-base on potential impacts on marine life from offshore wind for planning, licensing and consenting purposes

·       the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme, playing a pivotal role in achieving the environmental aspirations of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal

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Public Consultation on Offshore Wind Farms avoids important questions

by editor time to read: 9 min