Story 4: The Netherlands (Offshore Wind and Fisheries)

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. 

To answer questions related to the risks of opening up the wind farms, the Dutch Government (Rijkswaterstaat) decided to carried out a risk assessment. A package of mitigating measures was subsequently prepared in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including wind farm owners. The wind farm owners also carried out their own risk analyses and introduced them into the process. This led to a regulation proposed by the Dutch Government (Rijkswaterstaat) on how to integrate other uses and vessel transit in offshore wind farms. For fisheries the following regulations were proposed, designed to limit hazards while providing opportunities:

  • Transit of the wind farm safety zones by professional fishers is allowed when their bottom- disturbing fishing gear is carried in a position above the waterline, where it is visible;
  • Bottom-disturbing activities, like anchoring or dragging of fishing gear, are forbidden within the wind farm safety zone;
  • Professional fishing is allowed if, and only if, the fishing gear is specified as permissible by the Dutch government. This will be written in a framework in which the risks for wind farms, ecological risks, economical potential and enforcement possibilities are taken in consideration.

In 2016/2017, the Dutch government decided to pilot the new regulations. Three offshore wind farms, OWEZ, Amalia and Luchterduinen, were to be opened for transit for vessels up to 24 meter in length and for multi-use. Bottom trawling was still to be prohibited. It was understood that implementing the regulations would require close cooperation between the Dutch government, fishers and the offshore wind farm owners. However, the wind farm operators and other involved stakeholders could not reach consensus on the costs and benefits of the proposed regulation. Although extensive studies were carried out, the parties were not unanimous in how to interpret the risk assessment. Wind farm operators had the following concerns:

  • Who covers the costs of adapting the offshore facilities to the new situation, and how does this relate to the contract between operator and the government;
  • Compensating for commercial aspects related to lost business, damage to wind farm infrastructure and increased operational expenses, which were not part of earlier business plans: ¬†Currently, there is no proposal for compensation in case these hazards occur;
  • Loss of work time of operational & maintenance (O&M) teams and risks to OWF personnel due to responding to third party safety infringements.

Damage to the image of the offshore wind energy sector and possibly the wind farm owner as a result of accidents and subsequent litigation. Due to these unresolved concerns, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy asked for an independent review (second opinion) of all relevant risk studies carried out. This was to assess the residual risk after implementing the suggested management measures. It was also to assess whether risks were properly mitigated, and whether risks might still be under- or overestimated. Once again, the focus of the risk assessment was on the three offshore wind farms to be opened for co-use and transit.

The second opinion was published in early 2018 and provided some new insights. It found no serious research gaps and saw the proposed rules and regulations as sufficient. However, it also identified some additional hazards that could arise to the offshore wind farms from fishing:

  • Fishing with static nets and hook lines. Risk was identified related to the use of fishing gear and its possible interference with cables and other installations. Lost gear behaves in unpredictable ways, and fishers, attempting to recover their gear, may even cause (further) damage;¬†
  • Fishing with pots and traps. Similar risk was identified for the wind farm as a result of anchoring and lost gear. Lost gear can move onto subsea cables, causing damage, or a fisherman may damage cables during recovery attempts.

The report recommended that risks should be further investigated, considering new methods of marking of the gear, collecting statistics on the loss of this kind of equipment, finding technical means of recovery without damages to cables, or how to provide compensation for abandoned gear.

Because of the generally positive results of the second opinion, the Dutch government decided to open the offshore wind farms on 1st of May 2018, implementing the restrictions proposed for the activities in the 2015 legislation. The Dutch government has made arrangements with the wind farm owners on monitoring, incident management and policy evaluations. The official pilot will take 2 years, but will be automatically extended. The conditions for multi-use and transit of vessels might be adapted by then based on new insights.

A longer-term solution is that new offshore wind farms will include a corridor which makes it possible for vessels up to 45 meters to transit through. These farms will be built in the period of 2019-2023.

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