The North Sea is a very busy place. But even as late as the 1980s, it could seem huge when out there in a yacht, racing or cruising, as sightings of fishing vessels, merchant ships and oil and gas rigs could be quite rare.
Unless you are near the English Channel or the maritime highway leading to the major seaports of continental Europe such as Rotterdam and Hamburg; in which case you have taken your life in your own hands.
But the advent of offshore wind farms (OWF) changes all that.
Already, Big Wind’s planting of thousands of wind turbines over the past decade, particularly in the southern North Sea, is causing problems as developers move into traditional fishing grounds and fishing routes. navigation in particular.
And it will get worse, exacerbated by shoddy ‘marine spatial planning’ at EU and UK levels.
MSP is still a new concept and being tested in about 70 countries. A research paper published by Elsevier late last year highlighted a “myriad” of challenges, including policy frameworks, climate change and the balance between economic development and the conservation of marine ecosystems.
Meanwhile, an EU briefing to MSPs and updated last month highlighted big issues, including an increased risk of shipping accidents and the diversion of shipping routes.
First, the risk of accidents, aggravated by the increase in maritime traffic, the number of turbines and the reduced marine space, which could lead to the creation of bottlenecks.
Some offshore wind farm configurations are also more risky in terms of accidents than others, which can become a problem if something goes wrong with the navigational equipment on board a vessel. Operations and maintenance (O&M) vessels can also pose a risk – and be themselves in danger – when traversing major shipping lanes en route to an offshore wind farm.
These can lead to significant financial losses for all parties involved. In the worst case, such accidents can result in loss of life or serious environmental damage.
With regard to diversion, offshore wind can lead to additional costs for the maritime industry – if, for example, ships have to be diverted to take a longer route.
Countries apply different management regimes: In Belgium and Germany, wind farms are considered maritime exclusion zones, a policy to prevent accidents that require search and rescue actions or result in damage to wind turbines . In the UK and Denmark, wind farms are open to transit and commercial and recreational use, including fishing. No special requirements regarding vessel equipment or vessel size are imposed.
Until now, marine risk assessment and management is typically conducted during the permitting and approval stages of an OWF project, rather than during the marine spatial planning process.
This has led to problems where marine areas as planned are often not the same as marine areas as approved. Consequently, there have even been instances where coastal states have had to modify shipping routes or retroactively modify OWF facilities, leading to complaints from stakeholders and inefficient use of maritime space.
It’s not a good picture and the situation is even worse for the fishing industry, especially in the UK where the rush to install turbines in territorial waters is accelerating.
First some numbers to tick.
Installed electricity generation in the UK was 75.8 GW in 2020. We also imported a significant amount of electricity – around 7% of the actual total capacity needed of 81.5 GW.
In the third quarter of last year, the share of renewables in electricity generated was 35.9%, with offshore wind accounting for the largest share.
The UK currently has just over 10 GW of installed offshore wind capacity… around 30% of global installed capacity in 2020.
The next target set by the London government is 40 GW of capacity by 2030, and possibly 95 GW by 2050 when offshore turbines would represent by far the largest chunk of generating capacity.
It really increases the pressure in every way imaginable and British anglers are not at all happy with the way things are going. Whether it’s Barrie Deas from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations of England and Wales, Elspeth McDonald from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation or Daniel Lawson from the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, the concern is the same.
They fear that commercial fishing is becoming marginalised, despite its enormous socio-economic value, if not its absolute monetary value to the UK economy. Frankly speaking, some say the ‘last of the hunters’ is itself becoming an endangered species due to the accelerating competition for space on Britain’s continental shelf.
Oil and gas may be a pariah, but their actual footprint has always been quite small. The two industries have learned to coexist.
But Big Wind is different. Wind farms are engulfing large areas of the seabed and while symbiotic relationships with the fishing industry should be possible, research reveals friction and fishermen are unquestionably the scapegoats.
When Crown Estate Scotland announced the results of its successful first round of ScotWind and a few weeks ago and flagged a potential future second round, SFF’s McDonald’s expressed collective concern over the reserved rights covering over 7,000 sq km of maritime space offered to the 17 approved. wind projects. More than half of the projects would use floating wind turbines, each of which is a big space hog due to their anchoring spacings compared to the narrow footprint of a monopile or cased turbine.
McDonald warned: “In the rush to energy transition, it is vital that the voice of our industry is properly heard and that fleet access to Scotland’s productive fishing grounds is protected.
“In particular, careful consideration must be given to the developers’ claims that offshore wind farms and fishing activity can co-exist with little change to existing business patterns, as our experience to date shows very clearly that the opposite is the case.”
Last month the Shetland Association published a detailed map of Scotland’s aquatics showing how the marine space now available to anglers is becoming limited and traditional grounds are being ‘crowded out’.
Chief executive Daniel Lawson said: ‘Fishing crews, so vital to Shetland’s economy, are being moved from areas where fishing has continued for hundreds of years as part of a so-called ‘just transition’ “which is anything but fair.”
There is more; Late last year, the SFA denounced the Scottish Government’s so-called INTOG plan designed to help oil and gas operators west of Shetland green their production.
The concerns relate to the Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas (INTOG) leasing round – separate from ScotWind – under which developers were asked to apply for the right to build offshore wind farms specifically for the purpose of supplying electricity to low carbon offshore oil and gas installations.
Sheila Keith, policy officer for the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said: “While the fishing industry will always support the goal of reducing carbon emissions, the INTOG consultation is being rushed with little consideration. attention to detail, unlike ScotWind which involved extensive and detailed consultation.”
And so, too, Barrie Deas at the NFFO, who also recognizes the “enormous political imperative” to build offshore energy facilities to achieve Net Zero.
“What really concerns us is the scale at which this is going to happen. The failures of the past, especially the failures of marine spatial planning, have been very significant,” he told EV.
“The most glaring example would be off the east coast (of England) where they put a wind farm (Westernmost Rough) above the most lucrative lobster fishery in Europe.
“The upscaling of offshore wind and in particular related to floating wind is of great concern to us because it is politically unstoppable.”
Clearly Deas feels there is a lack of respect for the fishing industry and being treated as an afterthought, almost cavalier.
Its members have suffered massive impacts as a result of the Big Wind projects in the Southern North Sea and Northern North Sea, especially since that is where there are large concentrations of wind turbines and many more will be planted over the next 10 years and beyond.
Combine that with the 38% of England’s maritime space now designated as marine conservation territory, and the potential to displace (and destroy) the fishing industry is enormous according to Deas.
“Is it possible to locate the next generation of offshore wind turbines where they do not have a major impact on fishing. It’s really a big problem.
“But at least there is now a project in the Celtic Sea where the Crown Estate, the developers and the fishing industry are talking to each other… not just the location but also the design of offshore wind farms.
The Celtic Sea offshore wind program is co-ordinated by the Crown Estate and is particularly important as it focuses on the potential future deployment of floating wind turbines which fishermen are increasingly concerned about due to bottom mooring systems sailors used by the floats.
Deas also wants the UK’s marine spatial planning to be reformed with particular attention to identifying the most important fishing areas, demarcating them and moving infrastructure away from them where possible.
“We have an ongoing project with consultants ABPmer on spatial compression happening offshore… looking at it as a whole, with a report due later this year,” he added.
“The reason we ordered it is that we can see that displacement is going to be a very big issue in the very near future.
“Listen, after a bumpy start, our relationship with the oil and gas industry has turned into something that was actually quite constructive. We want to achieve the same with renewables; establish a mature dialogue where both parties do what they have to do and put in place the arrangements (framework) that allow us to coexist.
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