With the construction of wind farms all across the North Sea, numerous artificial reefs are created. These windmill artificial reefs (WARs) harbour high abundances of fish species which can be attracted from elsewhere or can be the result of extra production induced by these wind farms. To resolve the attraction–production debate in suddenly altered ecosystems (cf. wind farms), the possible consequences of attraction should be assessed; thereby bearing in mind that ecological traps may arise. In this paper we investigated whether the wind farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea act as ecological traps for pouting and Atlantic cod. Length-at-age, condition and diet composition of fish present at the windmill artificial reefs was compared to local and regional sandy areas.
Fish data from the period 2009–2012 were evaluated. Mainly I- and II-group Atlantic cod were present around the WARs; while the 0- and I-group dominated for pouting. For Atlantic cod, no differences in length were observed between sites, indicating that fitness was comparable at the WARs and in sandy areas. No significant differences in condition index were observed for pouting. At the WARs, they were slightly larger and stomach fullness was enhanced compared to the surrounding sandy areas. Also diet differed considerably among the sites. The outcome of the proxies indicate that fitness of pouting was slightly enhanced compared to the surrounding sandy areas. No evidence was obtained supporting the hypothesis that the WARs act as an ecological trap for Atlantic cod and pouting.