Fishing industry casts doubt over offshore wind support

The fishing industry has raised concerns over the Government's decision to shift wind farm renewable subsidies from onshore to offshore, fearing the move will put greater constraints on where fishermen can fish.

Following the Government’s announcement last week, the National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO), which represents fishermen’s groups, individual fishermen and producer organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has called for more cooperation with the industry at the planning stages of offshore wind farm developments to avoid destruction of prime fishing grounds.

Currently offshore wind provides around 3% of the UK’s electricity demand, but is likely to increase to one fifth to ensure the UK can meet its legally binding EU renewable energy target by the year 2020.

Establishment of wind farms have an investment opportunity of £60bn and offshore wind could support up to 30,000 jobs from industries involved in installation and development of wind farms, but also the manufacture and design of vessels and turbines.

However, the fishing industry has said the decision could cause problems, citing an early round of developments where “poor preparation and decisions based on inadequate information” placed a wind-farm development on “one of the best lobster grounds in the country”.

To avoid repeating similar debacles, the NFFO has worked with Crown Estates on an innovative seabed mapping project, funded by the Crown Estate and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which is designed to use fishermen’s own electronic data to identify the most important fishing grounds.

The project has collated a large body of plotter data from a range of fishing vessel skippers and combined this information with the Crown’s powerful mapping software to map the main areas of fishing activity with astonishing accuracy.

The data collected should prove invaluable in informing future rounds of offshore renewable planning to avoid the most important fishing areas, as well as encouraging direct dialogue between individual offshore developers about how to minimise the displacement of fishing activities.

The findings also have direct scope to help inform a network of marine protected areas in UK waters, and marine spatial planning generally.

NFFO chief executive Barrie Deas said: “The Government’s recent decision to shift its subsidy to offshore wind-farms underlines the need to strengthen protection for our most important fishing grounds.

“The kind of collaborative approach we have developed with the Crown Estate offers the best way of limiting potential damage. But it requires a commitment from the Government and individual developers as well as members of the fishing industry to engage in a meaningful dialogue on the data this mapping project has produced,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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