Since they work in the common offshore environment, the fishing and oil and gas industries offshore have had to agree ways of working satisfactorily together.
Individual operators and the fishermen's federations are in day-to-day contact regarding fishing interaction and seabed equipment design issues. Marine Scotland Science's (MSS) expert opinion is available to aid these discussions.
In addition, the Scottish Government chairs and Marine Scotland provides secretariat support respectively for the Fisheries and Offshore Oil Consultative Group (FOOCG), an inter-departmental, inter-industry group where issues of a more general nature are debated and resolved.
The Fishsafe initiative, which has helped to improve fishermen's awareness of the nature and position of seabed equipment, was one such issue encouraged by FOOCG.
Some fishing interaction issues remain of concern to fishermen and environmental advisers. MSS is currently working in two areas:
- trawling over of pipelines
- trawling over of cuttings piles should they be left after installation decommissioning
In addition, in 2001 FOOCG published a fishing industry guide to offshore operators, which illustrates the types of fishing activity most routinely pursued in UK water.
FOOCG was also involved in the production of the Fisheries Sensitivity Maps in British Waters, which tells the offshore oil and gas industry, and in particular the seismic industry, where spawning fish are at their most sensitive throughout the year.
There are many thousands of kilometres of pipeline in the North Sea varying from the very large gas and oil export trunk lines to the smaller inter, and intra-field, lines. Fishermen are not required to avoid lines outside safety zones and many are trenched and/or buried to minimise interaction. But some are not, and the number of lines and the size of lines is still increasing.
Recent concerns about the feasibility of trawling over very large bundled lines (where several smaller lines are brought together within a common pipe) led to a UKOOA (now Oil and Gas UK) joint industry project trawl over trial in 2003. MSS fishing gear experts collected direct underwater TV observations of gear in action as it encountered one of these large bundles during these trials.
OSPAR Decision 98/3 on the decommissioning of offshore platforms encourages the complete removal of the larger oil and gas installations in the North Sea. This means that more of the large cuttings piles beneath them will be exposed to fishing which, in turn, raises both safety concerns for fishermen and contamination-spread concerns.
A recent MSS project which studied the effects of trawling on the fate of fluorescently labelled cuttings material placed on the seabed, has begun to inform contamination-spread concerns.