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Early Better Stakeholder Consultation on Offshore Wind "Vital" - EU Official

26th July 2022
Offshore wind- a study found the main impacts occur during construction of wind farms when disturbance and sediment displacement are higher Credit: GWEC

Early and better stakeholder consultation on offshore wind installation is vital, and more quantitative studies are needed to assess the monetary loss to fishing, a European Commission official has told an international workshop.

The workshop also heard how underwater noise and energy emissions, which could cause displacement of fish stocks, have been identified as negative impacts requiring more research.

The workshop hosted by the North Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC) and the Pelagic Advisory Council (PelAC) involved expert speakers from the European Commission, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the European Marine Board.

Its report has just been published on both organisations’ websites.

Céline Frank of DG MARE said that the Commission recently adopted the REPowerEU communication in response to the rise in energy prices, placing emphasis on the need for more renewable energy.

The European Commission plans to issue guidance on renewable energy permitting to shorten the administrative procedure in member states, she noted.

Frank outlined the results of a study prepared by DG MARE, led by Wageningen Marine Research.

It found the main impacts occur during construction of wind farms when disturbance and sediment displacement are higher.

She said that impacts are mitigated during the operational phase, which can also have positive effects on the environment, such as the creation of artificial reefs where marine organisms can find refuge and recovery.

However, the ecosystem is “likely to remain altered in its functions and processes”, and more research is needed on these aspects, she said.

She pointed out the importance of the marine spatial planning process, which should be accompanied by “continuous discussion and consultation with the different stakeholders involved”.

She said that compensation as a strategy has been approached in 11 different ways by member states, as some provide direct compensation to fishers while in others, it comes as part of a specific fund.

She said that more quantitative studies are needed to assess the monetary value of the loss of fishing.

She said it is evident that offshore wind farms tend to restrict fisheries activities due to safety implications, but cited Belgium as an example where no negative effect on fisheries were observed based on yearly aggregated vessel monitoring system-logbook data between 2006 and 2017.

Dr Andrew Gill, principal scientist, and strategic lead for offshore and marine renewable energy at Britain’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), outlined work by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on the topic.

He said an ICES offshore wind development and fisheries working group found an offshore wind farm’s closed area can provide potential refuge for fish species, creating a new habitat and acting as a de facto marine protected area.

However, energy emissions, such as noise and electromagnetic fields, could cause displacement and sublethal effects on fisheries species, he noted

In response to questions, Dr Gill said that though no work is being carried out yet, spawning is something ICES hopes to address in future.

He said there is also a growing worry about floating installations with a lot of conflicting opinions, but ways to collect the data must be found to answer these questions.

In a discussion, Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive John Lynch said that in Ireland, stakeholder involvement started with prospective developers visiting the harbours and showing maps with sites already chosen.

The fishing industry was not consulted, he said, and the currently proposed developments around the Irish coast will lead to serious fisheries displacement as fishing vessels will have nowhere to go due to the sheer number of wind energy developments proposed.

Dr Gill said the Irish situation is “an example of what is happening in many other countries as well”.

He said early engagement is key, but “has not happened in most countries”.

"Deploying renewables is vital and would also mitigate the risk of energy price spikes"

Better stakeholder engagement, and the need to strike a “careful balance, so as not to create other problems” was noted by Goncalo Carvahlo of PelAC, who also noted that while underwater noise is “out of sight”, it “cannot be allowed” to be “out of scope”.

In his keynote address, DG MARE’s head of unit Felix Leinemann said that the aggressive invasion of Ukraine has made it “absolutely evident that Europe needs to move even faster to reshape its energy system and reduce dependency on Russian fossil energy in the very short term”.

Deploying renewables is vital in this process and would also mitigate the risk of energy price spikes, while effectively acting against climate change, Leinemann said.

The Commission’s offshore renewables strategy aims to have an installed capacity of at least 60 GW of offshore wind by 2030 in EU waters, and at least 300 GW by 2050 (both excluding the UK with its own targets).

He said existing users, including fisheries, must be “properly considered”, along with the protection of marine biodiversity.

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - FAQS

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are geographically defined maritime areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

MPAs can be found across a range of marine habitats, from the open ocean to coastal areas, intertidal zones, bays and estuaries. Marine protected areas are defined areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources.

The world's first MPA is said to have been the Fort Jefferson National Monument in Florida, North America, which covered 18,850 hectares of sea and 35 hectares of coastal land. This location was designated in 1935, but the main drive for MPAs came much later. The current global movement can be traced to the first World Congress on National Parks in 1962, and initiation in 1976 of a process to deliver exclusive rights to sovereign states over waters up to 200 nautical miles out then began to provide new focus

The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ on climate change in 1992 saw a global MPA area target of 10% by the 2010 deadline. When this was not met, an “Aichi target 11” was set requiring 10% coverage by 2020. There has been repeated efforts since then to tighten up MPA requirements.

Marae Moana is a multiple-use marine protected area created on July 13th 2017 by the government of the Cook islands in the south Pacific, north- east of New Zealand. The area extends across over 1.9 million square kilometres. However, In September 2019, Jacqueline Evans, a prominent marine biologist and Goldman environmental award winner who was openly critical of the government's plans for seabed mining, was replaced as director of the park by the Cook Islands prime minister’s office. The move attracted local media criticism, as Evans was responsible for developing the Marae Moana policy and the Marae Moana Act, She had worked on raising funding for the park, expanding policy and regulations and developing a plan that designates permitted areas for industrial activities.

Criteria for identifying and selecting MPAs depends on the overall objective or direction of the programme identified by the coastal state. For example, if the objective is to safeguard ecological habitats, the criteria will emphasise habitat diversity and the unique nature of the particular area.

Permanence of MPAs can vary internationally. Some are established under legislative action or under a different regulatory mechanism to exist permanently into the future. Others are intended to last only a few months or years.

Yes, Ireland has MPA cover in about 2.13 per cent of our waters. Although much of Ireland’s marine environment is regarded as in “generally good condition”, according to an expert group report for Government published in January 2021, it says that biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are of “wide concern due to increasing pressures such as overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change”.

The Government has set a target of 30 per cent MPA coverage by 2030, and moves are already being made in that direction. However, environmentalists are dubious, pointing out that a previous target of ten per cent by 2020 was not met.

Conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment has been mandated by a number of international agreements and legal obligations, as an expert group report to government has pointed out. There are specific requirements for area-based protection in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the OSPAR Convention, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yes, the Marine Strategy Framework directive (2008/56/EC) required member states to put measures in place to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their waters by 2020. Under the directive a coherent and representative network of MPAs had to be created by 2016.

Ireland was about halfway up the EU table in designating protected areas under existing habitats and bird directives in a comparison published by the European Commission in 2009. However, the Fair Seas campaign, an environmental coalition formed in 2022, points out that Ireland is “lagging behind “ even our closest neighbours, such as Scotland which has 37 per cent. The Fair Seas campaign wants at least 10 per cent of Irish waters to be designated as “fully protected” by 2025, and “at least” 30 per cent by 2030.

Nearly a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species. However, a conservation NGO, Oceana, said that analysis of fishing vessel tracking data published in The Guardian in October 2020 found that more than 97% of British MPAs created to safeguard ocean habitats, are being dredged and bottom trawled. 

There’s the rub. Currently, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law, and environment protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore.

Current protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited to measures taken under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives or the OSPAR Convention. This means that habitats and species that are not listed in the EU Directives, but which may be locally, nationally or internationally important, cannot currently be afforded the necessary protection

Yes. In late March 2022, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the Government had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

Yes. Environmental groups are not happy, as they have pointed out that legislation on marine planning took precedence over legislation on MPAs, due to the push to develop offshore renewable energy.

No, but some activities may be banned or restricted. Extraction is the main activity affected as in oil and gas activities; mining; dumping; and bottom trawling

The Government’s expert group report noted that MPA designations are likely to have the greatest influence on the “capture fisheries, marine tourism and aquaculture sectors”. It said research suggests that the net impacts on fisheries could ultimately be either positive or negative and will depend on the type of fishery involved and a wide array of other factors.

The same report noted that marine tourism and recreation sector can substantially benefit from MPA designation. However, it said that the “magnitude of the benefits” will depend to a large extent on the location of the MPA sites within the network and the management measures put in place.

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