Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location.



The invisible industry

There is a general misconception that mare liberum (the Freedom of the Seas) applies in particular to fishers working in coastal waters. The common view is that access to the sea is homogenously distributed and all fishers can and do work anywhere and everywhere. So when a new structure or restriction is introduced to the coastal environment, people believe that fishermen can simply fish elsewhere. This view is not restricted to those that have a remote and often romantic view of the small boat rural fishing industry either. In a desk-based environmental impact assessment carried out prior to the installation of underground gas storage caverns on the Yorkshire coast the consultant remarked:

“No fishing takes place in this area, though one cannot discount some small scale exploitation” (a consultant cited in Hart & Johnson, 2005).

This observation was made in a region of the coast where there are numerous small inshore fishing boats and one of the biggest crab/lobster fisheries in Europe netting around £4 million a year for a community with few other industries. If the consultant had bothered to look carefully from just about any point along the coast he/she could have counted over 100 buoys, each attached to 20-30 creels on the sea bed. Fishing occurs everywhere along this coast. But it is transient and the degree of activity is not always immediately obvious, so it can be invisible to planners – unlike the physical structure of an oil rig or sewage outfall that can be marked on a chart.

Under-represented and misunderstood

Coastal, or inshore fishers work in a complex environment fraught with hazards, complex regulation, patchy distributions of their target species, exclusion zones and informal territories. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the distance that an inshore fishing vessel can travel from their home port is limited by the speed, size and capacity of their vessels. The cumulative impacts of these factors on fishers are often poorly understood by those outside the industry. The regulators and proponents of coastal developments are comfortable in the be-suited, jargonistic and bureaucratic worlds of legal negotiation, planning legislation and public relations.

But it’s a world alien to most fishers, who as hunters earn their living by their wits, often at night and in harsh environmental conditions. They are typically highly independent individuals and naturally protective over their way of life. Unused to communicating their opinions and needs to institutions and the public, they do not always represent themselves very well in board rooms, and historically there has been no fishing equivalent of the “landed gentry” to argue their case in the upper circles of UK society. This is not an excuse to view them as “poor, backward, marginal and problematic, but as important contributors to the rural economy and potential focal points for market development in areas otherwise remote from the cash economy” (Hart & Johnson, 2005). A study of rural inshore fishers in Ireland demonstrated that one fisher at sea supports about 7 people ashore and that each fisher was worth an aggregated £34 000 per annum to the community (Meredith, 1999).

A rush to renewables

Offshore wind electricity generation is at the forefront of the UK’s drive to source 15% of energy supplies from renewables by 2020 (BERR, 2008). As renewables contributed only 1.5% to the UK’s energy demands in 2006 the scale of the task is substantial, and is leading to the designation of large areas of the sea for wind farm development. There has been a lack of precision with regard to how different stakeholders are involved in the process. The greatest challenge for developers is engaging with fishers at the local level who do not have someone in an office with the expertise, time and inclination to review the substantial documentation associated with marine development/construction projects. This is not helped by the fact that regulators such as DEFRA have generally been much more focussed on biology and economics than the most important area of science relevant to engaging and understanding stakeholders – social science (SAC Secreteriat, 2007). Early decisions on wind farm locations were made using a broad brush approach and with little stakeholder engagement. It was common in the second round of planning to see consultation only lasting 4 weeks (Gray et al, 2005). And yet location is the key issue that determines impact upon fishing communities, so these time restrictions instantly reduce the scope for useful and positive negotiations with fishers. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) undertaken once the sites are allocated become inherently biased towards justifying the location. This is not helped by the fact that EIAs are carried out by consultants under contract to the developer, who in practice may lack fisheries expertise or the necessary investigative resources.


The documentation associated with a single EIA, produced by a team of administrators, consultants and scientists.  This particular EIA was delivered to a fishermen’s association office on a pallet.

Consequently, developers face an uphill struggle trying to convince the stakeholders with local ecological knowledge of the validity of their own reports, often based on desk-studies authored by what the fishers regard as pet scientists. Consultation meetings with fishers can often be little more than last minute box ticking exercises where frustrated and poorly informed fishers vent their fury. This allows the developer to adhere only to minimum statutory requirements, citing unreasonable behaviour on the part of fishers. In fact, fishers are sometimes viewed by developers as little more than obstacles with no real rights of tenure who can be bought off, no matter whether payment of compensation is in the interests of the community and environment or not. In contrast, developers are often viewed by fishers as arrogant, devious and well connected with the institutions and regulators responsible for control of their resource (Hart & Johnson, 2005).

Environmental arguments

In an arena increasingly peppered with constraints and tensions, the development of wind farms will unavoidably result in displacement of fishing activity in different ways depending on location. At worst, livelihoods and fishing communities are at stake if fishing opportunities are removed or additional costs are incurred to divert to alternative fishing grounds that undermine the viability of fishing businesses. Developers sometimes cite declining fish stocks and the potential conservation benefits of exclosures as additional reasons to press ahead with wind farms, whether or not the local community objects. It is easy for developers and those that support wind farms to cite claims by environmental NGOs that all fished stocks are in decline. In reality, there is a recognised lack of data at appropriate scales for inshore fisheries to fully determine impact, and to be effective, restrictions on fishing activity for conservation purposes need to be set within the context of a coherent conservation strategy. Presently there is no such integration between wind farm and conservation planning processes. The initial disturbance of an area during the construction phase and ensuing noise pollution caused by pile driving are of concern with regard to fish and marine mammal populations (Hart & Johnson, 2005). The possibility that shark species may be adversely affected by electromagnetic interference is something that scientists have also been investigating. There are, nevertheless, ways that good wind farm design could mitigate impact upon fisheries. Construction activities can be planned to avoid sensitive migratory or reproductive periods and cables can be buried or shielded to limit exposure to electromagnetic fields. In the right location and with careful design, wind farms may be able to act as artificial reefs or fish aggregation devices.

Fisher safety
A wind farm array inevitably poses an increased safety risk to mariners. Fishing among turbines may seem more practical if working a limited number of lobster pots from a small boat, when compared to towing a trawl from a larger one. But there are no hard and fast conclusions on the types of fishing activity that would be compatible from a safety point of view. Sensible safety criteria must, therefore, be agreed on a case by case basis. Outside of any safety exclusion zone that is designated, it is down to skippers to assess their exposure to risk according to the local circumstances, weather conditions and fishing method employed. Some developers prefer to automatically excluding fishers from wind farms completely on safety grounds. That is understandably not something that fishers favour! However, even when fishing activity is not possible, consideration should be given to assess whether it is safe to allow passage to access fishing grounds that would otherwise be blocked. Lessons can be learned from the interactions of the fishing and oil and gas industries. Decommissioning (or recommissioning) in particular needs to be carefully considered now rather than in 20 years time. The stakes for the environment and fishing industry are likely to be higher as the ecological and spatial footprint of wind farms is so much larger. The key issues for all concerned with wind farms, which were less significant with the oil and gas industry, are location and access, and it is these that require real stakeholder involvement and proactive decision-making which takes effective account of the sensitivities and needs of fishing communities.

Originally published: Johnson, ML & Rodmell, DP (2009). Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location. Food Ethics, 4(1): 23-24

Magnus L Johnson (Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology, Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull)

Dale P Rodmell (Assistant Chief Executive, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations)


BERR (2008) UK Renewable Energy Strategy: Consultation Document. Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Bratton S, Hinz S (2002) Ethical responses to commercial fisheries decline in the Republic of Ireland. Ethics and the Environment 7: 54-91

Gray T, Haggett C, Bell E (2005) Offshore wind farms and commercial fisheries in the UK: A study in stakeholder consultation. Ethics, Place & Environment 8: 127-140

Hart PJB, Johnson ML (2005) Who Owns the Sea? Workshop Proceedings., University of Hull

Meredith D (1999) The strategic importance of the fishing sector to rural communities and Ireland: a case study of the Rossaveal Region, Co. Galway. Irish Fisheries Investigations (New Series), No. 4

SAC Secreteriat (2007) Social Research in DEFRA. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, SAC (07) 33

Is Corbyn the UK’s Trump?

The USA has Donald Trump, we have Jeremy Corbyn; it could have been so much worse, we could have ended up with Nigel Farage. As different as they are they are all a product of the same consolidation of power by neoliberal elites and corporations and a feeling of helplessness in the electorate.  The old adage “No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in” has never been so true.

In the UK the ideological lines between Conservatives (= Republicans) and Labour (= Democrats) had become completely blurred. The labour party, until recently, looked more like a soft right than a party of the people, by the people and for the people.  They have been happy to see the state assets sold off to private industry, content to take the country to war, wanted to distance themselves from workers’ unions and had created a Machiavellian top down party structure.  Margaret Thatcher was once asked, “What is your greatest achievement?”  Her reply was “Tony Blair”. Nuff said!

The ConLab parties opposed proportional representation because it would have lost them safe seats into which faithful and able champagne socialists/tories could be parachuted to take up their rightful positons in the party hierarchy. Over time the leaders on both front benches and party spokesmen (almost no women) had begun to resemble each other in terms of appearance, accent and career history that the public could no longer tell the difference.  Into this absence of a credible opposition, where two Tyrannosaurus-like dinosaurs fought over the centre ground, initially stepped Nigel Farage.  The ridiculous right – a party of racist, anti-european, bigoted middle-aged white males with generally low IQs who believe that the country is being taken over by militant Islamic invaders.  Polls suggested that people were so fed up with the same old, same old that they would even vote for UKIP for a change that might give ordinary people a voice.

Fortunately, a man and a moment have coincided and slightly shabby, quietly spoken and not public school educated, Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership contest of the Labour party. He didn’t just win, he won more votes than the rest of the “old school” Blairites and Brownites put together.  He didn’t just win the election, he increased the membership of the party purely because people wanted an opportunity to vote for him.  The young have come flocking back, people who left the party years ago when it shifted right and people like me – lost socialists (currently a member of the Green Party) are considering engaging.

Apparently winning a leadership election and increasing the membership of the party is a bad thing. Ex-front benchers and current Labour front benchers that Corbyn retained in the name of uniting the party, decry his personality, ability as a leader, friends and policies; all the while proclaiming the need for party unity (Translation: We need to get rid of Jeremy and get back to the comfortable neoliberal, very definitely not socialist, party we had before).  They are of course aided and abetted by the Conservative party who love the fact that the Labour party is split.  They must however, be a little concerned that come the next election the new brand of Corbyn politics is going to sweep them away.  Otherwise, I’m sure the right wing press, or should we just say press in general, would not be constantly and vehemently attacking everything and anything Corbyn does.

I welcome the return of socialism to UK politics and I hope to be able to vote for a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn in the next election.

Pêcheurs : les nouveaux réfugiés de la conservation

A translation of the original article “Fisherfolk: Conservation Refugees Reloaded” by Magnus Johnson.

Translation by Danièle Le Sann

Quatorze millions de personnes autochtones ont été chassées de leur terre par des activités de conservation. Les peuples autochtones ont vécu sur leurs terres pendant des générations et leur comportement a généralement été déterminé par des normes plutôt que par des lois, et ce qu’ils avaient à faire pour survivre. Les gestionnaires des aires protégées sont financés par les ONG occidentales dont le comportement est déterminé par l’économie, les lois, l’idéalisme et une science superficielle. Souvent, la pauvreté est utilisée comme un argument pour « améliorer » la vie des peuples primitifs.

Brockington signale :

« Un problème auquel sont confrontés les acteurs de la lutte contre la pauvreté est la façon dont la pauvreté est quantifiée. Le revenu personnel est la référence. Il semble impossible pour les économistes de comprendre que les gens qui vivent dans l’absence totale d’argent peuvent être beaucoup plus riches que leurs proches voisins qui vivent à la lisière de l’économie locale (et mondiale). Les peuples autochtones qui gagnent zéro dollar par jour, mais qui ont un régime alimentaire équilibré, riche en protéines, de l’eau potable, une protection contre les éléments, des médecines traditionnelles et une culture forte, ne devraient pas être placés sous ou même sur un pied d’égalité avec les personnes qui gagnent quelques dollars par semaine à des tâches subalternes, mais qui ont des durées de vie courtes, une mauvaise santé, qui sont sous-alimentés, n’ont pas accès aux médicaments, et ont une culture fruste. »

Les peuples autochtones sont généralement considérés avec dégoût dans leur pays d’origine. Considérons par exemple comment le citoyen moyen au Royaume-Uni considère les gitans, comment les Indonésiens voient les Bajo, la maltraitance des Inuits en Amérique du Nord et le mauvais traitement des Aborigènes par les Australiens. Une grande partie de cela est lié à la façon d’évaluer les biens. Les peuples autochtones qui vivent souvent en petits groupes, survivent grâce à la responsabilité sociale et la réciprocité, un système de valeurs souvent facilité par des liens familiaux étroits.

Les conservationistes aiment le mot SCIENCE. Brockington et Igoe soulignent que, généralement, les organisations revendiquent ce mot quand elles s’efforcent d’acquérir le pouvoir et le prestige, et pour supprimer toute opposition. Le public a du mal à remettre en question les « faits scientifiques » et diverses techniques sont employées par des organisations de conservation : choix sélectif des faits à utiliser, utilisation des faits non pertinents mais qui semblent impressionnants, et ignorance des vérités dérangeantes.

Les pêcheurs sont un peu comme les peuples indigènes. Ils vivent en quelque sorte en marge de la société, ils travaillent à des heures irrégulières, ont leurs propres codes sociaux, peuvent parfois être considérés comme des rustres, faisant des choses que la plupart des gens ne comprennent pas, et sont considérés par beaucoup comme des prédateurs, s’emparant des ressources communes sans payer en retour. La plupart des organismes de conservation semblent trouver commode d’ignorer le fait que les pêcheurs ont travaillé en mer pendant des centaines ou des milliers d’années (sans ajout de tonnes de pesticides, d’engrais ou utilisation d’OGM). En passant, vous pourriez aimer regarder comment un scientifique de la pêche de renommée mondiale (Ray Hilborn) compare les impacts écologiques de la pêche à ceux de l’agriculture. Les différences entre les pêcheurs et un propriétaire foncier sont les suivants :
1) Ils n’ont pas de documents disant qu’ils possèdent quelque chose.
2) Leurs ancêtres n’ont pas volé la terre des paysans par la force.
3) Ils ne sont pas surreprésentés dans la chambre des Lords.
4) Vous ne pouvez pas faire une thèse sur n’importe quoi à Oxford ou Cambridge en « Gestion maritime » parce que vos parents n’appartiennent pas à la bonne classe sociale.
5) Lorsque vous prendrez votre retraite, vous aurez un corps brisé et un bateau qui vaut moins que quand vous avez commencé.

La pêche est sans doute l’un des derniers métiers où l’on peut réussir uniquement à force de travail acharné et de ténacité.

Récemment, nous avons vu l’application de haut niveau de la pseudo-science au monde de la pêche par un cuisinier. Souhaitez-vous demander à un pêcheur comment couper les légumes ? Hugh-Feelmy-Walletall se fait d’énormes quantités d’argent par sa harangue publique contre la pêche.( Fishfight n’est pas un organisme de bienfaisance). Avec sa première campagne contre les rejets en mer, j’ai juste senti une légère irritation en voyant que quelqu’un qui coupe les légumes et cuit la viande a pu aller plus loin que les scientifiques, des halieutes qui se battent pour résoudre le problème des rejets depuis des années. Plus récemment, cependant, il a sauté dans le train en marche de la création de réserves marines. Quelque chose que les riches organisations de propagande telles que Conservation International et Greenpeace ne sont que trop heureuses de soutenir. Je recommande d’écouter Ray Hilborn pour apporter un peu d’équilibre face à ce déluge d’informations erronées grassement financées.

Le fait qu’il n’y a pratiquement aucune preuve pour étayer l’idée que les réserves fonctionnent dans des zones tempérées, en particulier sur des sédiments mous, semble avoir été complètement ignorée. Le gouvernement et les gens les plus éclairés s’accordent pour dire qu’il y a un manque total de preuves pour soutenir la mise en place de la plupart des réserves proposées et certains travaux qui suggèrent leur prédominance en tant que paradigme de l’écologie de conservation est fonction de l’idéologie plutôt que de la science à l’état pur. Les gens ordinaires aiment croire que si vous laissez faire, les choses iront mieux et le monde retournera à un état mythique d’Eden – « l’illusion du paradigme de l’équilibre ».

La conservation réelle et positive / la gestion de la ressource, nous obligent à examiner les choses plus globalement plutôt que de s’intéresser à des espèces particulières et de tracer des courbes sur des graphiques . Comme Ostrom le disait , les situations complexes exigent des solutions complexes- il n’existe pas de solution unique, pas de solution miracle. Comme Beth Fulton l’a dit lors du dernier Congrès Mondial des Pêches, « nous devons avancer avec prudence et à grand pas ».

Chasser les pêcheurs des zones où ils ont pêché pendant des générations, afin de soulager les consciences de la classe moyenne, de hippies intellectuels en sandales, n’est pas la réponse. Regardez cette carte (fournie par Marc Cohen, de Holderness Fishing Industry Group) et voyez sur quelle étendue cette zone sera interdite aux pêcheurs. En conséquence, on pêchera de plus en plus sur une zone réduite, de manière non durable, étant donné que la pêche est de plus en plus étranglée. Il n’existe aucune preuve d’un effet réserve (spillover effect) susceptible de se produire dans ce secteur. Notez comment les réserves contournent les exigences de l’industrie énergétique (nouveaux acteurs sur le terrain) mais pas celles des pêcheurs « arriérés ». Les pêcheurs sont susceptibles d’être les nouveaux réfugiés de la conservation, et si les extrémistes arrivent à leurs fins, il y aura une plus grande marginalisation, des pertes d’emploi, et la pauvreté dans les villes et les villages côtiers au Royaume Uni. Dans les plus jolies, il y aura les résidences secondaires de la classe moyenne fuyant la ville, envahies l’été, couvertes de plantes sauvages, et dont les magasins seront fermés en hiver.

Bien que mes ancêtres étaient pêcheurs et chasseurs de baleines, je ne suis pas aveuglément pro-pêche, et je ne suis pas anti-écologiste. Je suis juste anti-bêtise.

Dr Magnus Johnson est biologiste marin au « Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences ». Son texte n’engage que lui.

Fisherfolk: Conservation Refugees Reloaded

Fourteen Million indigenous people have been displaced on land by conservation activities. Indigenous peoples have lived on their lands for generations and their behaviour has generally been determined by norms rather than written laws and what they have to do to survive. Protected area managers are supported (generally) by western NGOs whos behaviour is determined by economics, written laws, idealism and superficial science. Often poverty is used as a lever to “improve” the lives of primitive peoples. Brockington points out:

“One problem facing antipoverty advocates is the way that poverty is quantified. Personal income is the benchmark. It seems impossible for economists to understand that people living in the complete absence of money can be far wealthier that their neighbours in close proximity who love at the edge of the local (and global) economy. Indigenous people earning zero dollars a day, but with balanced protein-rich diets, clean water, protection from the elements, traditional medicines and strong cultures should not be placed beneath or even on a par with people earning a few dollars a week from menial labour but who have short lifespans, bad health, undernourishment, no medicines and a brutish culture”

Indigenous peoples are generally regarded with distaste in their homelands. Consider for example how the average UK citizen views gypsies, how Indonesians view the Bajo, the mistreatment of the Inuit in North America and the shoddy treatment of Aboriginies by Australians. Much of this is likely to do with the chasm that there is between the way in which goods are valued. Indigenous peoples, often living in small groups, survive on reciprocity and social responsibility, a value system often oiled by their close family ties.

Conservationsists love the word SCIENCE. Brockington and Igoe point out that generally organisations claim this word when they are striving to acquire power and prestige and to suppress opposition. The public find it hard to question “scientific facts” and a variety of techniques are employed by conservation organisations – selective choice of facts to use, using irrelevant but impressive sounding facts and ignoring inconvenient truths.

Fishermen are a bit like indigenous folk. They live, quite literally, at the margins of society, they work irregular hours, have their own social codes, can occasionally be viewed as uncouth, do something most people don’t understand and they are viewed by many as taking something for nothing from a public resource. Most conservation organisations appear to find it convenient to ignore the fact that fisherfolk have been working the sea for hundreds or thousands of years (without adding tonnes of pesticide, fertilizer or resorting to GM crops). In passing you might like to watch a world renowned fisheries scientist (Ray Hilborn) comparing the ecological impacts of fishing v farming. The differences between them and a landowner are:

1) they don’t have a piece of paper that says they own anything,
2) their ancestors didn’t steal land from peasants by force,
3) they are not over-represented in the house of lords,
4) you can’t do a mickey mouse degree at Oxford or Cambridge in “Marine management” because your parents come from the right social class
5) when you retire you leave with a broken body and a boat that is worth less than when you started.

Fishing has been perhaps one on the last occupations where you can succeed purely by dint of hard work and tenacity.

Recently we have seen the high profile application of pseudo-science to the world of fisheries by a cook. Would you ask a fisherman how to chop vegetables? Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is making enormous amounts of money out of his public haranguing of the fishing industry (Fishfight isn’t a charity by the way). With his initial campaign against discards I just felt a mild irritation that someone who chops vegetables and heats meat was able to get further than many many marine scientists who have wrestled with the problem of discards for years. More recently however he has jumped on the Marine “Conservation” Zone bandwagon. Something that rich propaganda organisations such as Conservation International and Greenpeace are only too happy to support. I recommend listening to Ray Hilborn for a bit of balance in the face of this well financed barrage of mis-information.

The fact that there is virtually no evidence to support the idea that MCZs work in temperate areas, especially over soft sediments, seems to have been completely ignored. The government and most sensible people agree that there is a complete vacuum of evidence to support the establishment of many of the proposed MCZs and some work that suggests their dominance as a paradigm in marine conservation ecology is a function of ideology rather than hard science. Simple folk like to believe that if you leave things alone things will get better and the world will return to some halcyon state – the “Erroneous equilibrium paradigm”. Real and positive conservation/resource management requires us to look more broadly than single species or drawing lines on charts. As Ostrom said, complex situation require complex solutions – there is no single solution, no magic bullet. As Beth Fulton said at the last World Fisheries Congress, “We need to tread lightly and with a broad footstep”

Excluding fisherfolk from areas that they have fished for generations in order to salve the consciences of middle class, sandle-shod, cord-wearing intellectual hippies is not the answer. Look at the chart here (provided by Mike Cohen of Holderness Fishing Industry Group) and look at how much area could be off limits to fishermen. This area will be fished harder and unsustainably as the fishing industry is more and more squeezed. There is no evidence of any sort of spillover effect likely to occur in this region. Note how MCZs work around the requirements of the Energy Industry (new kids on the block) but not the unfashionable fish folk. Fisherfolk are likely to be the new conservation refugees and if the extremists get their way there will be further marginalisation, job losses and poverty in rural coastal towns and villages in the UK. The pretty ones will be sources of 2nd homes to the middle classes escaping from the city – packed in summer, tumbleweed and closed shops in the winter. The ugly ones will be left to rot.

Map of MCZs and Windfarms

Proposed and current fishery exclusion zones off the yorkshire coast

Although my ancestors were fishermen and whalers, I am not blindly pro-fishing and I am not anti-conservationist. I’m just anti-stupidity.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a Marine Biologist at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences. His views are his own.