Last month, the world's largest offshore wind farm became fully operational, with its 165 turbines set to power some 1.4 million UK homes.
Hornsea 2, as it's named, sits off the coast of northern England, stretching across an area of 462 square kilometers — more than half the size of New York City.
At a time when energy security has never been more pressing, the public have broadly welcomed the continued development of these enormous offshore facilities.
The progress of this industry is undeniable. In 2021, UK offshore wind generated enough electricity to supply the needs of 33 percent (9.3 million) of UK homes – up from just four percent in 2011.
In the fishing industry, however, the picture is more mixed. In coastal towns up and down the UK, there are fears the purported economic and environmental benefits of the renewable energy revolution will come at the expense of the fishing sector.
According to a new report published by the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC), the rapidly expanding offshore wind sector is set to employ almost 100,000 people in the UK alone by 2030, with the private sector expected to invest £155 billion (€180 billion) in new offshore wind projects over the next eight years.
Valued at £1.4 billion ($1.6 billion/€1.6 billion), and employing 24,000 people, the UK fishing industry represents less than 1 percent of the UK’s national economic output, putting it in danger of being sacrificed to the growth of the renewable energy sector.
The alarm was apparent in Scotland last month, when the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) called for “urgent research” into offshore wind development’s impact on the industry after developers were announced for three sites to the east of the isles that overlap with known haddock nursery grounds and saithe spawning sites, two of the Shetland fishing fleet’s most valuable whitefish catches.
“The impact of these projects on nursery grounds and spawning sites is unknown, and research is urgently needed before productive and pristine fishing grounds are destroyed in this offshore windrush,” SFA Executive Officer Daniel Lawson said.
Working with fishermen
Renewable energy companies have recognized the importance of allaying some of these fears. So it was noteworthy when the developer of Hornsea 2, Danish energy company Orsted, announced Cameron Moffat, former sustainability manager at Young's, the UK's largest seafood company, would be joining the company as commercial fisheries manager.
“It's really interesting to see the difference in industry that's really on the up, with lots of opportunities," said Moffat, who spent two years working for eco-label group the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) prior to joining Young's.
"Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of consolidation, mergers, and acquisitions in seafood. It’s a very challenging landscape with processors vying for pockets of retail business.”
Moffat’s new role as part of the company’s environment & consensus team will involve working with fishermen who may be temporarily displaced by the surveying and the construction of wind farms to help mitigate the impacts of the construction process.
“That's where our teams comes in,” Moffat told IntraFish. “What Orsted have done is create a really comprehensive methodology for calculating compensation to those that are genuinely impacted."
The role will involve assisting research into the impacts on fishermen while offshore windfarms are being constructed, particularly those with static gear.
"It's about trying to ensure offshore wind can co-exist with fisheries in the most constructive way" Moffat said.
The relationship between groups such as the National Federation of Fishermen's Organizations (NFFO) is already "very positive," he added, so the key is finding an agreeable way to allow both industries to operate.
'It's possible for everyone to gain something'
Mike Cohen, deputy chief executive at NFFO, said that while some developers take concerns of the fishing industry more seriously, others are merely paying lip service to the idea of cooperation.
"We are never going to see eye to eye on every single issue, there will be places they want to build that we want to fish," said Cohen. "The better developers understand that. Others still try to railroad local fisherman."
Cohen points out that establishing good relations isn't just about individual developers and local fishing organizations, it also needs to involve the Crown Estate which owns the UK seabed, and the marine licensing bodies.
Having seen relations improve in recent years, he is hopeful for the future.
"Ultimately, these are two different industries with a similar aim," Cohen said. "They both want people to go to sea, make a living and come home safely. It's possible for everyone to gain something."