offshore wind farms dg mare

The NWWAC has written to DG MARE calling for more research into the effects of offshore wind farms

The North West Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC) has called for more research into the effect of offshore wind farms on the marine environment.

In a joint letter of advice to the Director-General of DG MARE, Ms Charlina Vitcheva called  the “NWWAC, PELAC and NSAC advice for a non-recurrent request to ICES on the impact of marine wind energy developments on commercial fish stocks” the groups recommended that further research on the issue be undertaken before long-term commitments are given over to such offshore developments.

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They examined the growing number of offshore wind farms noting that 502 offshore wind turbines were connected to the grid in 2019 across 20 projects.

“This places marine wind energy developments firmly into the space of viable commercial fisheries in many Member States which is of great concern to fishers. Writes the group in the joint letter. “Sustainable fisheries management is at the heart of the Common Fisheries Policy, and the many efforts made by fishers in the North East Atlantic in implementing and adhering to the rules of sustainable stock management have led to a stabilisation of many commercial stocks.

“On both the European and the international level it is unclear to what extent potential cumulative effects of offshore wind energy developments on fishing areas, for example spawning grounds, nursery areas, or important habitats for fish stocks, are taken into account in a cross-border context, as policy, research and mitigation appear not to be streamlined. Currently, effects on a wide scale are unknown, and research, monitoring and marine spatial planning tend to be carried out at a national level.”

Dutch fishermen claim that development of offshore wind farms in the North Sea have already impacted marine biodiversity, along with reducing their fishing grounds, causing the effect of more intense fishing in areas free from such developments.

“Fisheries and offshore wind energy developments coexisting is vital for both food and energy production in the future. However, the understanding of interactions and impacts of these rapidly expanding offshore wind developments on fisheries remains limited,” continues the letter.

“Impacts are generated both during the developmental as well as the operational phase, and adverse effects remain poorly understood, such regarding acoustic impacts of seismic acquisition and surveys during the development stage for example on spawning and nursery stocks. There is recent significant research in both South East Australia and on the Atlantic coastline of the United States and Canada, off the coasts of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia & Coast of Labrador, Maine and south to Florida indicating that that these seismic airgun surveys, sometimes described as seismic blasting, trigger significant adverse impacts to both spawning and nursery stocks up to and including stock collapse.”

Not only is there the long-term impact on the marine environment that is caused by offshore wind farms, there is an immediate effect right from the off. 

“Further research has indicated that these surveys can cause a collapse in phytoplankton with consequent and significant knock-on collapse in fish stocks, which is of particular concern in the context of the phytoplankton-rich spawning and nursery grounds off the coast of Ireland, and specifically, the East, South and South- West Coast and in both the Irish and Celtic Seas where a number of significant fish stocks are located whose health is critical to the well-being of the Irish, French, Spanish, Dutch/German and Belgian Fishing Fleets, including Mackerel, Horse Mackerel, Herring, Hake, Monkfish, Megrim, Cod, Prawns, Whiting, Black Sole, Lobster and Crab.

“In addition, potential acoustic impacts are generated, for example on spawning and nursery stocks, due to pile driving in relation to construction of both the foundations of the generator column and in the construction of the many stays all of which are anchored into concrete piles driven into the sea floor.

“While considerable research has been conducted into the effects of seismic airgun surveying in the European marine environment on marine mammals, limited to no research has been conducted in the North Western Waters and the North Sea on the significant adverse impacts and effects of seismic airgun surveying on fish stocks.

“In addition, AC members feel that there is a considerable knowledge gap in Europe regarding the effects of seismic surveying on migratory fish stocks including Albacore Tuna, Bluefin Tuna, Swordfish, a number of species of sharks and common species of fish such as mackerel which run from the Celtic Sea to the Coast of Norway.

“Moreover, it appears that much of the research conducted to date in Europe has been spatially limited in its studying of the adverse impacts on migratory and spawning stocks as well as nursery areas insofar as adverse impacts have been estimated in the range of a radius of 1.5 Kms from source. Both North American and Australian research has shown that impacts from marine acoustic surveys and specifically seismic airgun survey can be felt by fish and shellfish species at distances of up to 300 miles (480 kms).”

In December 2019, the Committee referral was announced of the Initiative report on the impact on Fisheries of Offshore Wind Farms (2019/2158(INI)) for preparation in 2020 to trigger scientific based discussion. At the time of writing, this own-initiative procedure is still awaiting Committee decision with an indicative plenary sitting date envisaged for 15 December 2020.

The joint letter can be read in full by clicking here.


Brian J McMullin Solicitors
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