Evidence Gap FF.04: Improvements in environmental impact assessment methodologies
Review of current knowledge
The commercial fisheries impact assessments methodologies used in EIAs for MRE developments in the UK normally use a generic EIA impact significance matrix approach based on the identification of receptor sensitivity and impact magnitude, similar to that used of other topics, and take account of relevant existing guidelines (i.e. BSI 2015, Seafish 2012, Cefas and MCEU 2004). Whilst the existing guidance documents include consideration of fisheries related aspects where appropriate, they do not establish standard criteria to aid in the evaluation of receptor sensitivity, impact magnitude and ultimately, impact significance.
In addition, as mentioned under "Evidence Gap FF.01: Accurate mapping of fishing effort and catches in space and time", the fisheries data and information currently available are subject to a range of sensitivities and limitations, including significant differences in the data collected for inshore and offshore fleets and difficulties to link spatial data to specific fleet segments or fisheries. As a result, the methodologies used for assessment of impacts from MRE developments on commercial fisheries to date, whilst supported by analysis of quantitative fisheries data and information, have been qualitative in nature.
In order to facilitate the identification of suitable quantitative thresholds that can be used to inform assessments, where appropriate, fisheries data available across relevant fleet segments require harmonisation, so that consistent criteria can be applied across fisheries receptors.
Furthermore, key parameters requiring consideration, particularly with regard to the assessment of loss of access to fishing grounds and associated displacement (i.e. operational range, availability of grounds, viability of fishing within operational sites, etc) need to be better defined by fleet segment (see "Evidence Gap FF.01: Accurate mapping of fishing effort and catches in space and time", "Evidence Gap FF.02: Accurate and validated method to predict fisheries displacement levels and locations" and "Evidence Gap FF.15: Co-existence with commercial fisheries").This would facilitate the identification of suitable quantitative thresholds, where appropriate.
With regard to the assessment of loss of fishing grounds and associated displacement, it is anticipated that the outcomes of the project commissioned by Marine Scotland to develop good practice guidance for assessing fisheries displacement (see "Evidence Gap FF.02: Accurate and validated method to predict fisheries displacement levels and locations") will help inform the development of standard assessment methodologies.
Next steps in research
Guidance currently available to inform the undertaking of commercial fisheries assessments for MRE developments lacks detail on key methodological aspects such as receptor sensitivity and impact magnitude criteria. In addition, the limitations of the fisheries data that are available to inform assessments together with the existing uncertainty in respect of the degree of compatibility of the various fishing activities within operational MRE projects, make quantifying impacts in a standard manner difficult.
It is therefore recommended that standard commercial fisheries impact assessment methodologies are developed. This would allow the undertaking of assessments that are consistent across MRE projects for all fisheries receptors, increase the robustness of the assessments at the project specific level and improve the ability to undertake more detailed cumulative impact assessments.
The implementation of the recommendations proposed with regard to "Evidence Gap FF.01: Accurate mapping of fishing effort and catches in space and time", "Evidence Gap FF.02: Accurate and validated method to predict fisheries displacement levels" and "FF.14: Co-existence with commercial fisheries", would also contribute to the improvement of EIA methodologies and assessment outputs.
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