David Foxwell reflects on the potential for combining offshore windfarms with aquaculture.
Written by: David Foxwell / Offshore Wind Journal
Photo credit: freepik.com
Iwas interested to learn that Shandong province in China is to embark on an ambitious project to test the efficacy of offshore
The fishing community is often among the most concerned stakeholders when a new windfarm is proposed. Fisherman fear losing fishing grounds or windfarms displacing the species they target, but studies have also suggested offshore windfarms can encourage biodiversity growth and fish populations around them. It has also been suggested that offshore wind and aquaculture operations could be co-located.
The authorities in Shandong province aim to begin building the first wind/fish farms later this year. If successful, they could serve as models for similar developments in China and elsewhere. At conferences I’ve attended over a number of years, presentations have regularly made the case for a potentially beneficial relationship and synergies between the two industries.
Whether a wind-fish combination would work would depend very much on location. A study published years ago in Denmark suggested that seabed structures used in offshore wind can work as artificial reefs, providing enhanced conditions for certain species of fish. It has also been suggested that offshore windfarms act as marine preservation areas where fishing and trawling is prohibited, which helps to reduce pressure on fish stocks.
At the Wind Europe Summit in 2016, Equinor made the case for ‘multi-use platforms’, or MUPs, for applying offshore wind technology to offshore aquaculture and for exploring potential synergies. A presentation by Equinor and academics at an offshore wind event in 2015 suggested that MUPs in which aquaculture was combined with windfarms have the potential to produce significant annual yields of commercial species.
The growth in offshore wind comes at a time when interest is growing in offshore fish farming. A study completed in 2017 by the Marine Institute at Plymouth University suggested large-scale growth in salmon production in the UK had resulted in most available near-shore sites being used up, and that offshore sites would need to be developed. Offshore fish farms could be co-located with windfarms, it was suggested, although the authors of the study concluded that developers were not as open to the idea of aquaculture as they might be. But they are receptive to habitat enhancement to mitigate the impact of development.
The authors of the study said aquaculture in offshore windfarms could reduce windfarms’ impact on fisheries and help to reduce multi-user conflicts. If well-planned, the infrastructure available with offshore wind developments could enable them to become a site of choice for aquaculture without any disturbance to their main purpose.
A growing number of players in the aquaculture market see offshore aquaculture systems’ development as essential to ensuring the salmon farming sector remains viable in the long term. Another study suggested seafood consumers in the US would prefer aquaculture growth to come from offshore developments, rather than land-based or inshore operations.
There would be environmental, economic and safety concerns to address, but as offshore windfarms are proposed in an ever-growing number of countries, and as aquaculture companies look further offshore, there would seem to be plenty of potential in the idea. New opportunities for other users of the sea might arise. The world needs new sources of food and for it to be produced in a sustainable manner. Evidently the authorities in China think the idea has potential. So, is a pilot-scale, semi-commercial project in Europe out of the question?
Under the MARIBE