Government has committed to the UK generating 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020 in order to reduce carbon emissions, combat climate change and secure the UK energy supply. A significant proportion of this renewable energy will come from windfarms sited off the UK coast. The establishment of windfarms at sea has the potential to cause disruption to commercial fishing activities, including through the loss of access to some fishing grounds for the operational life of the windfarm.
In light of the potential for fishermen to lose access to significant sea areas within offshore windfarms, this project was focused on supporting commercial fishermen and dependent fishing communities ashore over the long term by investigating options and opportunities for marine fisheries mitigation associated with windfarms. The overall aim of the project was to develop a menu of possible mitigation options which would be of use to fishermen, developers, regulatory and statutory bodies and marine resource managers in discussions related to current and future windfarm developments, as well as in other offshore industry developments and in any future consideration of marine spatial planning issues. In brief, the aim of this project can be summarised as "Identifying ways to keep fishermen fishing".
A key concern for this project from the beginning was the involvement of stakeholders. It was considered vital that fishermen, windfarm developers and fisheries and environmental management bodies were offered the opportunity to contribute at every stage. Three main strategies to increase stakeholder engagement were adopted: Firstly, an expert advisory group (EAG) was established and was invited to disseminate information on the project, to comment on project documents and to attend two project workshops to develop and refine the list of possible mitigation options. Secondly, the project and any project outputs were advertised on the COWRIE website and through the publication of articles in Fishing News. Finally, a questionnaire was developed which was then made available online and sent out to stakeholders in order to gather information and promote the project.
The EAG and the project workshops were found to be critical to ensuring that stakeholders were able to input detailed information to the project at key stages. In fact, the EAG was instrumental in proposing the second workshop, when only one workshop was initially planned in the project. Advertising the project and making the interim outputs available online was also apparently effective in ensuring that stakeholders were aware of the project and were able to access project information. In contrast, the questionnaire approach to data collection was not found to be useful, as little additional information was obtained.
As a result of the research undertaken and through the support of the EAG, 26 possible mitigation options were identified during the course of this study. These were grouped into four categories:
- Pre-construction options to limit any impacts on commercial fishing activities (five options): These options are focused on reducing or eliminating any negative impacts of windfarms on commercial fishing activities through early and constructive consultation.
- Options to enhance stocks of targeted species and associated habitats (five options): These options are focused on promoting existing fishing activities within and around wind farm sites.
- Options to support existing fishing activities (12 options): These options are focused on increasing access to fisheries, enhancing performance, reducing costs, increasing product price or enhancing marketability.
- Options to develop new fisheries or other non-fisheries opportunities (four options): In the event of loss of access, these options are focused on opportunities to switch to new or alternative fisheries and other activities.
In order to provide windfarm developers and fishermen with additional information that should assist in determining whether particular mitigation options might be suitable for a development, a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis of each option was undertaken. In addition, an overarching SWOT analysis was undertaken of mitigation as an approach to managing impacts on the commercial fishing industry.
Key strengths identified in the overarching SWOT analysis include the well-organised associations representing both fishermen and windfarm developers, and the strong entrepreneurial spirit within both industries. A key weakness identified was that the fishing industry is made up of many individuals and a large number of sectors, which may have conflicting individual or sectoral needs. An additional weakness is that there are relatively poor spatial and economic data available on fishing activities, which can create uncertainty in discussions relating to impacts and mitigation options.
The complete results of the SWOT analyses are provided within this report, together with guidance on the probable timescale for work on a mitigation option to be implemented and for the results of any action to begin delivering benefits to impacted fishermen. An indication of the likely scale of costs associated with successfully implementing each option to the extent that significant benefits may be delivered is also provided. It was not possible to provide precise cost estimates for each option because these could vary greatly from project to project depending on the scale of any work and on the local situation.
The list of mitigation options developed through the project was extensive, but was never intended to be definitive or exhaustive. Each of the options presented will need to be considered and appraised in the context of individual offshore developments. Although the project had national scope, many of the options may be found to be unsuitable for particular developments or areas because of specific local issues. Fishermen and developers, with the support of fisheries managers, fisheries scientists and representatives of statutory bodies, are therefore encouraged to use this full project report and the separate, brief summary report as information sources while identifying their preferred process for managing any impacts on commercial fishing.