Fish and fisheries research to inform ScotMER evidence gaps and future strategic research in the UK: review

This study undertook a literature review and consultation with key stakeholders to establish current knowledge for evidence gaps identified in the ScotMER Fish and Fisheries evidence map. This report includes research recommendations to help fill remaining strategic priority gaps.

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Evidence Gap FF.14: Co-existence with commercial fisheries

Review of current knowledge

The increased demand for sea space associated with the development of MRE projects has direct implications for commercial fishing. As such, it is important to understand the ways in which fisheries and MRE projects interact and identify suitable approaches to facilitate co-existence (de Groot 2014). In this context, co-existence refers to where multiple developments, activities or uses exist alongside or close to each other in the same area and/or at the same time (Defra 2019).

Various studies have been undertaken in recent years looking into key factors of relevance to promoting co-existence between MRE projects and fishing both in the UK and abroad:

  • De Groot (2014) investigated the challenges for co-existence between MRE projects and fishing and explored a mitigation agenda for fishing effort displacement in the UK. The research identified three key priority areas for the mitigation agenda: developing efficient and cost- effective mechanisms for overcoming data issues for assessment of fishing effort displacement, the development of appropriate methods of assessment, and the development of an acceptable consultation protocol between MRE and fishing sectors agreed on by all stakeholders.
  • Moura et al (2015) provided a compilation of best practices for addressing interactions and supporting successful cooperation between commercial fishing and offshore wind. This included consideration of aspects such as business improvements, communication, compensatory mitigation, facilities design, construction and operations, fisheries management, fisheries resource enhancement and ocean planning.
  • Kafas (2017) studied the multi-use of sea space between offshore wind farms projects and commercial fishing in the East Coast of Scotland and identified key measures and actors that can contribute to the enhancement of co-existence. Key recommendations identified in the study relate to aspects such as:
    • Funding: Innovation funding for multi-use applications through lobbying and demonstration of their benefits, favourable scoring as part of bidding application subsidy rounds for proposals that maximise the sea use potential and multi-uses, greater consideration and prioritisation of local fishing vessels to encourage multi-use with affected stakeholders and implementation of technical innovation funding such as fishing community funds;
    • Marine planning: consideration of multi-use opportunity mapping by marine planning authorities instead of the current sector planning, establishment of stronger co-existence policies in marine plans with explicit reference to multi-use and development of guidance for the design of fishing friendly offshore wind farms;
    • Marine licensing: improvement in EIA methodologies to account for indirect effects such as fishing displacement, licensing authorities to request co-existence plans prior to the submission of a licence application, earlier agreement on mitigation strategies to aid with stakeholder power imbalances (i.e. development of a Statement of Common Ground (SoCG)) and allowing for innovation advancement in multiuse by exempting small-scale pilot projects from full-scale assessments; and
    • Technological innovation: need of empirical studies exploring the compatibility between offshore wind farms; fishing and innovation studies on moorings, cable installation methods, fishing-friendly cable protection measures and gear modifications; good practice guidance for the integration and interpretation of fisheries distribution data layers to improve EIAs and to demonstrate the links between multi-use and Corporate Social Responsibility; improve mapping of navigational hazards, particularly dropped objects during construction and establishment of a standardised and agreed system for monitoring of cables; and the use of over-trawlability surveys to aid the issue of clear seabed certificates.
  • Primo Marine (2019) investigated key requirements and potential implications of allowing demersal fisheries in future offshore wind farms in the Netherlands. The study concluded that demersal fisheries in operational wind farms in the Netherlands would increase the cost of energy produced by the affected wind farm and recommended that the cost (impacts) are assessed against the benefits to the fishery. Aspects considered in the study include reference to potential liabilities in the event of an incident, design implications and costs associated with cable repairs and insurance claims;
  • Stelzenüller et al (2020) provided an overview of general impacts of the development of offshore wind farm and other marine renewables on the European fishing sector. The review highlights pathways for possible co-existence solutions, provides best practice examples and outlines lessons learnt. The study identified a sharp increase of spatial conflict potential in the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean over the next five years and noted that future cumulative impacts will mostly affect trawling fleets targeting mixed demersal species and crustaceans. The study suggests that economic impact assessments on fisheries need to address the direct and indirect costs of lost fishing opportunities and highlights that European-wide standarised monitoring programme would provide currently unavailable ecological and socio-economic data needed to assess cumulative impacts. From a review of various case studies Stelzenüller et al (2020) identify that early stakeholder consultation, the involvement of independent third parties, the creation of guidelines and compensation payments could alleviate the conflict potential between fisheries and MRE projects. In addition, the study proposed the use of an integrative framework to clarify and mitigate the effects of MRE project on fisheries and facilitate best practice guidance for marine spatial planning and co-operation amongst marine users.
  • Dupont et al (2020) identified key conflicts between offshore wind and fisheries and described how these have been addressed in EU Members states. In addition, it highlighted best practice and potential synergies that could be developed to mitigate conflicts and improve coexistence. The study is focused on North Sea countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK) where most offshore wind farms are currently found. The key conclusions of the study are summarised below:
    • Development of offshore wind farms generates constraints on maritime activities in relation to safety and insurance aspects and these constraints vary depending on the development phase under consideration (construction vs. operation);
    • Whilst national approaches and restrictions may differ, offshore wind farms have been developed without major conflicts with other sea users in the North Sea, the most sailed and busy European sea basin;
    • Interactions with fishing have been limited where development areas supported low fishing activity;
    • Increased development of offshore wind farms may result in increased conflicts. Conflicts may be reduced with the undertaking of global socio-economic assessments under the umbrella of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) taking a cumulative approach and then considering the particularities of each project (location, fishing methods used, target species); and
    • Early dialogue between stakeholders including all fisheries stakeholders and developers is key to prevent conflicts.
  • Schupp et al (2021) reviewed stakeholders' perspectives from Scotland and Germany in relation to fishing within wind farms. The study identified that in both countries the offshore wind industry has demonstrated a low interest in multi-use, unless clear added value could be demonstrated, and no risks for the respective business were involved, whilst the fishing industry is more proactive towards multi-use projects. The study also highlighted that a clear commitment from policy makers is required if multi-use is to become a potential solution for reducing conflict in MSP and that this would require a regulatory framework to guide the process of assessing multi-use options by considering both environmental and socio-economic impacts.

As described under "Evidence Gap FF.03: Fisheries stakeholders integration and participation process", and in line with the findings of the literature review in relation to co-existence presented above, the implementation of timely and effective communication between the MRE industry and fisheries stakeholders and the use of MSP processes to facilitate early integration of fisheries considerations into marine planning are both factors of key importance in promoting co-existence.

In addition, the development of effective co-existence approaches between the MRE and the fishing industry requires significant gathering and communicating of data about the compatibility the two sectors (Schupp et al 2019). Whilst significant research on the aspects of relevance to co-existence has been undertaken in recent years (see summary above) comprehensive guidance with regard to fishing specific requirements and MRE project design compatibility is currently lacking.

At a basic level, fishery operations differ by fixed or mobile gear, vessel class and other key factors. Different fishing methods interact with the water column and substrate differently, and by extension, also interact differently with the various aspects of wind farm construction and operation (Dupont et al 2020).

Co-existence strategies should therefore be designed having in mind the technical requirements of the various fishing methods as well as the particularities and needs of the MRE industry.

To date, evidence on the compatibility and viability of fishing within operational wind farms is scarce and there is yet not conclusive evidence of significant levels of towed gear fishing activity taking place in operational wind farms (Dupont et al 2020).

In this context it is important to note that in many countries where offshore wind farm projects are operational, fishing within wind farms is either not permitted or highly restricted at present (i.e. only the use of static gear is allowed) (Dupont et al 2020). In the specific case of the UK, whilst fishing by all methods is currently permitted within wind farms, many of the projects operational to date are located relatively close to shore (i.e. Round 1, Round 2 and Round 2.5) where fishing activity tends to be primarily by small local vessels operating static gears. In addition, whilst fishing is permitted, fishermen may voluntarily avoid fishing in operational projects due to concerns over safety and snagging risks (Gray et al 2016; de Groot 2014).

There are some successful examples of crab and lobster pot fisheries co-existing within offshore wind farms. Westermost Rough Offshore Wind Farm, off the Holderness coast in the East of England, provides a good example of effective co-existence and co-operation between developers and static gear fishermen (see Roach et al 2018 and Roach 2020). In addition, various studies are currently under development to assess the viability of other fishing methods in operational sites. For example, longlining trials are planned to be undertaken in the East Anglia One offshore wind farm and the viability of fishing using fish traps is currently under investigation in the Hywind floating offshore wind farm project.

Anecdotal evidence of the viability of fishing using towed gears in UK wind farms is available from the survey work that has been undertaken to date in operational sites. As described under "Evidence Gap FF.11: Reef/fish aggregation effects", numerous surveys have been undertaken in UK wind farms using commercial fishing vessels and gears. However, these surveys were focused on monitoring fish and shellfish populations at discrete locations and therefore their scope in demonstrating the compatibility of normal fishing operations within wind farms is limited.

As noted under "Evidence Gap FF.02: Accurate and validated methods to predict fisheries displacement levels and locations", aspects such as the width of corridor available for fishing between turbines and aspects relating to potential interactions between fishing and cables are key to facilitating co-existence.

Technological developments, particularly the current trend towards larger turbine generating capacities, are anticipated to result in increased minimum spacings in upcoming projects compared to those currently operational. This may improve the prospect for co-existence with fishing, particularly for towed gears as they are more spatially constrained. Compatibility issues may therefore be increasingly focused on potential interactions between fishing and cables, rather than layout and spacing considerations.

Effective monitoring of cable burial along with appropriate liaison and information sharing, will be critical to minimise potential interactions between fishing and cables. In addition, due consideration should be given to modelling tools or other suitable approaches which may facilitate the early identification of potential cable exposures and inform burial risk assessments (see Carbon Trust 2015 and Tertente et al 2017). In addition, research on the seabed penetration depths of the various fishing gears used across the UK in different types of seabed substrate is required to facilitate the undertaking of burial risk assessments.

The use of cable protection methods which are compatible with fishing, where possible (i.e. over-trawlable), is also an aspect of importance in respect of facilitating co-existence. Similarly, the undertaking of suitable studies post-construction to assess the status of the seabed provides increased confidence to fishermen and reassurance prior to fishing within operational wind farms resuming. In this context, the implementation of effective data sharing procedures is of key importance.

The use of pro-active approaches to facilitate fishing within wind farms, such as the upgrading of navigation systems of the fishing vessels or the provision of training to skippers and crews in advance of fishing within operational wind farms, may also play an important role in facilitating co-existence (Primo Marine 2019).

Similarly, the establishment of a clear legal basis for fishing near or over cables or the establishment of arrangements for the appropriate management of liabilities is also of importance to facilitate co-existence. This is an aspect of significant concern for fisheries stakeholders.

It should be noted that in the case of floating offshore wind farm projects, in addition to the aspects mentioned above, the ability of fishing to resume in operational sites, both for towed fishing gears and static gears, would be dependent on the cabling system used. The installation of dynamic cables in floating projects would likely significantly hinder the prospect of fishing within operational sites. A better understanding of the potential interactions of floating technologies and existing fishing methods will be required to facilitate the development of appropriate co-existence strategies.

Next steps in research

Taking account of the findings of the literature review presented above in respect of "Evidence Gap FF.14 Co-existence with commercial fisheries", the following next steps in research have been identified to address current knowledge gaps:

  • The development of detailed guidance outlining key project design and fisheries operational parameters which facilitate the viability of fishing within wind farms for different methods, including consideration of potential interactions with cables. This should be informed through consultation with relevant stakeholders and technical experts and incorporate evidence from fishing compatibility studies and/or gear trials which may be undertaken. Compatibility parameters of relevance to both fixed bottom and floating technologies should be given consideration when developing guidance.
  • Strategic collaborative studies and fishing trials to investigate and demonstrate the viability of fishing in wind farms using different methods and gear configurations.
  • Development of guidance/standard methodologies in respect of the monitoring of potential interactions between buried and protected cables and fishing.
  • Research and guidance on existing legal frameworks with regard to fishing within wind farms and establishment of clear arrangements to facilitate the appropriate management of liabilities.
  • Recommendations outlined above in respect of "Evidence Gap FF.03 Fisheries stakeholder integration and participation" would also be of relevance in respect of co-existence.



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