The wind and fishery industries must co-operate

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, is calling for more cooperation at the planning stages of offshore wind farms. Barrie Deas explains why

It was with nervousness we listened to the government’s recent decision to shift wind farm renewable subsidies from onshore to offshore. While we recognise the need for the UK to reduce its carbon footprint and meet its legally binding EU renewable target by the year 2020, past experience tells us there is both a right and a wrong path to take account of commercial fisheries, and the wrong path may not only be to the detriment of British fishermen, but to renewable developers too.
Commercial fishing is among one of the widest distributed activities at sea. In 2012, UK fishermen landed 627,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish, with a value of £770 million. It is not just an economically important sector, but also a vital provider of food to our island nation. With the prices of cereal expected to rise by 20 per cent in the next decade, the viability of agriculture will be tested and fish as food will become more and more vital.
It is because of this that we are working with government and renewable energy developers to support  better planning and closer dialogue with the fishing industry to promote good practice in project site selection, design and management, in order to ensure the best chance of both our industries coexisting. This is in line with the preparation of marine plans that are expected to place greater emphasis on site selection  that takes account of the potential for fisheries displacement, whilst also promoting opportunities for coexistence.
Towards this end, we have recently completed an innovative seabed mapping project with Crown Estates and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. This project used fishermen’s own electronic data to identify the most important fishing grounds and has collated a large body of plotter data from a range of fishing vessel skippers. Combined with information from the Crown’s powerful mapping software, we have been able to map the main areas of fishing activity with astonishing accuracy. The data collected from the project should prove invaluable in informing future rounds of offshore renewable planning to avoid the most important fishing areas, as well as encouraging direct dialogue between individual offshore developers and fishermen about how to minimise the displacement of fishing activities.
Armed with such data, closer engagement between industries should promote mutual understanding and limit disruption, which can only be a good thing.
This also calls for good codes of practice, and efforts between our industries through the Fisheries Liaison with Offshore Wind and Wet Renewables Group (FLOWW) have recently produced a new and updated set of fisheries liaison guidelines. While these underline the importance of engagement from the earliest stages of project planning, the advent of the new infrastructure planning regime has taken this further by encouraging the preparation of working agreements between the fishing industry and individual developers. These so-called Statements of Common Ground have led onto the formation of working groups to design and implement liaison and coexistence plans.
Challenges still remain, however. To date there has been little documented experience of fishing within wind farms. Fundamental issues determining whether fishing can practically and safely operate relate to the layout of the arrays and whether cable burial can be achieved so that that the snagging of fishing gear is avoided. At this stage even less is known for other forms of renewable energy, although floating and underwater structures are likely to prove less compatible. Ultimately, while some forms of fishing may be able to adapt, for others it won’t be possible.
Going beyond establishing fruitful working relationships to promote coexistence, in the Eastern Irish Sea the NFFO has helped to broker collaborations between four wind farm projects represented by Dong Energy, Vattenfall, Scottish and Southern Energy, and Scottish Power Renewables, and local fishing communities to support projects that assist the local fleet to reduce costs and improve marketability.  This is just one of the positive ways in which something seen by existing sea users as a threat can, if managed appropriately, be channelled into something more positive.
Can fisheries coexist with marine renewables? It is fair to say that both industries are getting to grips with understanding one another’s needs, but with a positive policy framework, good planning decisions and a willingness to collaborate and address the practical issues faced with two industries operating in the same area, we’re confident co-existence is possible.

Barrie Deas is chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO)

This article is taken from New Power, April 2014 edition.  Also in this issue:

CCS: what is the global position?

Energy markets: have we built in the right flexibility?

Interview: Steve Riley, chief executive, GDF Suez UK, Europe

And much more. For a sample issue: [email protected]