offshore wind farms impacts

PECH Committee report examines the impacts of offshore wind farms & other marine renewable energies on European fisheries

The PECH Committee of the European Parliament heard today from a study it had commissioned on the impacts of offshore wind farms and other marine renewable energies on European fisheries.

This study aimed to provide an overview of the general impacts of the development of offshore renewables (OR) on fisheries in European sea basins. Furthermore, it highlighted pathways for possible co-existence solutions for both sectors, a description of good practice examples and lessons learnt, research gaps, and policy recommendations.

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One of the main talking points from the PECH Committe after hearing the report was the concerns that there was not enough data on the impacts of offshore wind farms and other other marine renewable energies on the marine environment.

The other key point was the lack of involvement of the fishing industry in making decisions in relation to the location and the effects such installations were having on biodiversity. Danish MEP, Gade Soren said “We are not treating fishermen equally” by not involving them in such consultations.

Members of the Committee clearly agreed that the push to impose offshore windfarms as alternative source of electricity was being pushed forward without any full studies being completed on the long-term consequences which French MEP, FX Bellamy called “irreversable”.

The key findings of the report complied by Vanessa STELZENMÜLLER, Antje GIMPEL, Jonas LETSCHERT, Casper KRAAN, Ralf DÖRING found:

  • The exploitation of offshore renewable (OR) resources varies greatly in size and capacity across the different European sea basins, whereby the spatial expansion until 2025 suggests a sharp increase of spatial conflict potential in the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Mediterranean over the next five years.
  • The current and future cumulative OR development affects mostly trawling fleets targeting mixed demersal species and crustaceans, whereas the composition of fishing effort varied greatly across fleets at individual planning sites.
  • European-wide standardised monitoring programmes would provide currently unavailable ecological and socio-economic data (i.e. indirect costs of lost fishing opportunities), which are needed to assess the general cumulative ecological and socio-economic effects of OR expansions.
  • An integrative framework is proposed to clarify and mitigate the effects of OR on fisheries (e.g. by creating transparent guidelines on the expansion of OR, early stakeholder consultation, the involvement of independent third parties or compensation payments), and to facilitate best practice guidance for marine spatial planning and the co-operation among marine users.

The research focusses on an in-depth spatial overlap analysis between the present-day fishing effort by fleet and the current and future spatial expansion of OR in European seas based on Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data. Further, we defined the concepts of co-existence, co-location and co-operation, and subsequently synthesised the lessons learnt from representative cases from the UK, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. A standardised literature review allowed us to summarise the current knowledge on the impacts of OR on fisheries and to identify respective knowledge gaps.

This study has been prepared during the period June to August 2020 by the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries, Germany, based on desk research consisting of a compilation and analysis of existing data, and a literature review

Impact of offshore renewables on European fisheries

The report found the proliferation of OR, such as offshore wind farms (OWF), is a key pillar in the global transition to a carbon-free power sector. The expansion of OR varies greatly across the European seas, whereby Northern European countries such as the UK, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden currently have the highest numbers of installed OWF. This spatial expansion is accompanied by an increasing conflict potential with other marine sectors, such as fisheries. In Europe, marine spatial planning (MSP) allocates multiple human activities at sea, such as OR development or shipping, but often falls short in contributing to the adaptive capacity of fisheries.

A spatio-temporal overlap analysis of OR development and fishing activities of European fleets suggests a sharp increase of spatial conflict potential in the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Mediterranean on a mid-term perspective (until 2025). For instance, in the North Sea, the spatial overlap in terms of absolute hours fished could more than double by 2025. In contrast, the conflict potential due to OR expansions in the Atlantic and Celtic Sea regions will remain low at mid-term, but is expected to increase substantially at the long-term (after 2025). In the Baltic, Celtic, and North Sea, OR expansion will affect mostly fishing fleets that deploy trawl gears and target crustaceans (Figure 1). Furthermore, the results show a great variation of fishing effort per fleet and OR across years, hence highlighting the need for local and regional assessments based on standardised data.

offshore wind farms impacts

Restricting fishing activities in a larger area will likely lead to the reallocation of fishing activities including associated industries and logistics. Economic impact assessments for the effects of OR on fisheries need to address direct and indirect costs of the loss of fishing opportunities such as the effects on the local communities and onshore economic activities, but these are hampered by the lack of available and harmonised socio-economic data. While spatial data on fishing activities become increasingly available, a European-wide standardised research and monitoring strategy with respect to OR expansion and its socio-ecological effects is missing.

Good practice in co-existence solutions

The concept of co-existence refers to two or more activities (e.g. fishing activities and OR) existing at the same time and/or in the same place, while co-location describes the fact that at least two activities are actively managed together while sharing space at sea. Co-operation reflects an interaction between two or more activities, each benefitting from that relationship, and leading to a growth for both. The implementation of co-location or co-existence solutions depends on site specific characteristics and prevailing integrated management approaches, such as MSP. From existing case studies in the UK, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany a few measures emerged that may support the mitigation of spatial use conflicts. Those comprise

1) early stakeholder consultation to detect conflict potential at an early stage and acknowledge the importance of all actors;

2) facilitation of negotiation processes by independent third parties and the creation of guidelines for the expansion of OR;

3) compensation payments for the disturbance and the associated loss of income or additional expenditures: all three aiming at contributing to a reduction of the impact.

The co-location of OR with other uses can reduce the impact potential on other marine uses, strengthen the relationship of the sectors of concern, and even enable beneficial co-operation between them.

Key knowledge gaps to inform integrated management Existing knowledge on the impact of OR on fisheries is focused mainly on ecological and environmental impacts. The environmental effects of future expansions of OR still is in its infancy. We identified a clear gap of economic and socio-cultural impact assessments for the impact of OR expansion on fisheries. Overall, more research is needed to assess potential impacts of the development of OR, especially OWF, on the fishing sector, local communities and onshore economic activities.

Based on the analyses the report recommends:

  • To promote standardised monitoring programmes and the harmonisation of fishing data, needed to perform cumulative ecological and socio-economic environmental impact assessment of the expansion of marine energy;
  • To enable more research to understand the effects of offshore renewable installations on the fishing sector, local communities and onshore economic activities to provide guidance for marine spatial planning to plan with fisheries and support their adaptive capacities;
  • To develop best practice guidance for marine spatial planning on the implementation of mitigation measures to lower the conflict potential between fisheries and offshore renewable development and to promote co-operation between marine uses.

The full study, which is available in English can be downloaded at:

Brian J McMullin Solicitors
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