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Offshore wind and fisheries

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Conflict Stories

Story 1: Sharing the sea in Scotland
An economic assessment of short-term options for offshore wind energy in Scottish Territorial Waters noted that all OWF sites suitable for short-term development are entirely or partially situated within spawning or nursery grounds for one or more of the commercial species. While comprehensive integrated planning has since been put in place, the conflict is to a certain extent still ongoing, reflecting the specificities of each potential OWF development project.

Story 2: Fierce negotiations on the final location of an offshore wind farm in France
In the bay of Saint-Brieuc an offshore wind farm is being planned, amounting to 500 MW and spread over an area of 80 km2 16.2 km off the coast. Construction is expected to start in 2018 and the wind farm is scheduled to be operational in 2020. The main economic activities in the bay are commercial fishing and tourism. There have been fierce negotiations on the final location of the wind farm. A departmental committee was formed to have a discussion with other marine users and to highlight the importance of the fisheries sector.

Story 3: Choosing offshore wind farm locations in Scotland
Scotland’s National Marine Plan was developed in 2015 building on sectoral plans. Sectoral Marine Plans reflect Scottish Government policies, and are used to steer the commercial scale of offshore wind development in more detail.  A comprehensive process was put in place to ensure minimal conflicts in the locations suitable for OWF developments.

Story 4: Piloting multi-use solutions in the Netherlands
For a long time, wind farms in the Dutch EEZ were not accessible to fishing vessels. In 2015 the government decided to change this. Multi-use options were to be considered that would allow ships to pass through offshore wind farms and that would also allow some types of fishing to occur.

Conflicting elements

Conflicts between offshore wind farming and commercial fisheries have mostly been relevant in the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Eastern Atlantic. Member States keen to develop offshore wind farming are now looking to MSP to address these conflicts in a pro-active way.


  • Accidental damage, including to subsea cables. Accidental damage and ship strikes, are a major concern. Snagging fishing gear is also a serious danger to fishers as it can cause a vessel to tip over or capsize.
  • Disturbance of species. Construction and operation of offshore wind farms can disturb mobile and sessile species, leading to displacement of or reduction in fish and shellfish resources.
  • Ecological consequences of spatial exclusion. Spatial exclusion, even if it is voluntary in terms of risk aversion, can lead to reduction in or loss of access to traditional fishing grounds. This in turn leads to the displacement of activity to other (potentially less profitable and/or less reliable) fishing grounds, increasing fishing pressure there.
  • Economic consequences of spatial exclusion. Obstruction of navigation routes to and from fishing grounds can lead to increased steaming times. Small scale fisheries may not be able to compensate for the increasing cost of operation, and some fishing grounds may no longer be accessible for small boats at all. But there are also higher initial costs for developers if they have to agree on co-existence with fishery as a prerequisite to obtaining their license.
  • Socio-cultural conflicts. In some cases, conflicts between offshore wind farming and fishing masks a deeper conflict. Fishers may perceive offshore wind farming as the last arrival in a long line of restrictions, threatening not only livelihoods but also a traditional way of life.


In many countries, fishing vessels are not permitted to enter offshore wind farms. Changes in risk perceptions models may soften these spatial restrictions in future.

Drivers of conflict

The EU, as well as the EU member states have set themselves ambitious renewable energy targets. Confidence in offshore wind farming has grown due to technological maturity and falling costs, and expectations are that capacity will continue to increase globally and in Europe.

Figure: Projections for offshore wind development globally out to 2030. Source: GWEC (2018)

Particularly in Scotland, significant OWF developments are expected in the coming years (Figure below). This is due to ambitious government targets to meet 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs from green sources, including offshore wind, by 2020. The future offshore wind developments are also expected to support the attainment of the decarbonisation target of 50gCO2/kWh by 2030 (to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation by more than four-fifths). The Scottish Energy Strategy published in December 2017 sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for the future energy system in Scotland. Moreover, the Climate Change Plan published in February 2018, sits alongside the Strategy, and provides the strategic framework for transition to a low carbon economy in Scotland. 


Figure: Map of offshore renewable options in Scotland. Source: Marine Scotland National Marine Plan Interactive

An important driver of conflict has been that in many countries, fishing vessels are not permitted to enter offshore wind farms. Changes in risk perceptions models may soften these spatial restrictions in future.

Fisheries are expected to remain under economic pressure as a result of quotas, rising costs such as fuel and other fishing restrictions. The occurrence and distribution of species may change in response to climate change, requiring fishers to respond flexibly. Added areas set aside for offshore wind farming are likely to increase pressure on the sector, especially smaller operations working closer to the coast.

A more fundamental question is how to make trade-offs between offshore wind farming and fisheries. Apart from monetary value, non-material value, such as the value of artisanal fisheries for cultural identity. Trade-offs are therefore mostly policy-driven and cannot be based on cost-benefit analysis alone.