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Protecting fishing grounds as offshore energy develops

FISHERMEN WILL BE CONSULTED ABOUT OFFSHORE WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT Photo: Bob Bateman
PROTECTING FISHING GROUNDS AS OFFSHORE ENERGY DEVELOPS

Eight major fishing organisations have been given a guarantee that they will be “consulted and involved” in the drawing up of the South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan, John Lynch, Chief Executive of the Irish South and East Coast Fish Producers’ Organisation, told me this week.

“That is a guarantee that we have and we want to be involved. No fishermen is happy with ORE (offshore renewable energy) coming into their fishing grounds, but we have to be involved in what is going to happen and it appears that this is now accepted, which is important for the industry.”

Paul Gallagher, Assistant Principal Officer in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications for Offshore Energy Long Term Strategic Planning, told me: “The State, in co-operation with local communities and with consideration for other maritime activities, including fishing, seafood production and environmental protection, will determine the appropriate location for future offshore wind developments.”

This is a welcome and important step in the development of offshore wind energy and the protection of traditional fishing grounds in the interests of coastal communities. It has emerged from consultations about the South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan (DMAP) Proposal by the Department, announced last July. This proposed wind energy development is in a marine space of about 8,600 square kilometres, stretching along the Cork coastline into Waterford and Wexford.

The fishing organisations banded together and made a joint submission. The eight represent catching, fish-farming, processing, and inshore sectors – the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the South East Regional Inshore Fisherman’s Forum and IFA Aquaculture. They expressed “deepening unease about lack of consultation and the effects of maritime spatial squeeze an planning mistakes of the past” that should not be repeated. They quoted the Corrib gas project in North Mayo as an example. “Bitter planning hearings and mounting local resistance could occur due to a poorly structured, often opaque approach,” they maintained.

Up to now the wind energy development industry has led the debate, calling for rapid planning decisions. Several of the development areas proposed are on top of traditional fishing areas, which would have huge, potentially damaging economic consequences for coastal communities and the seafood industry.

This is in some contrast to the big profits which wind energy developers are likely to make in Irish waters.

In the past Government policies have not effectively protected native interests in marine development. The fishing group submission calculated that the Government’s 2050 target of at least 37 GW of offshore wind would require wind farms stretching out to sea for “over twice the length of Ireland.” It seems that the Department is now accepting that a State-managed and plan-led approach is how wind energy, which all sides agree is needed, should be developed, not just led by powerful wind energy interests.

PROPOSED SOUTH COAST DEVELOPMENT AREA

“I am happy enough that we will be consulted. This is only right for fishermen and the correct way to proceed,” John Lynch said. “Ireland’s seafood industry recognises that an orderly development of offshore wind energy is critical to the future relationship between the seafood and offshore renewable industries. That relationship is essential if the State is going to meet its targets for ORE development”.

The Department of the Environment said it is “keenly aware of the crucial role of fishing, aquaculture and seafood production in supporting economic activity and employment for many Irish coastal communities and is committed to ensuring that constructive and comprehensive engagement with fishers continues to take place throughout the process to establish the South Coast DMAP. Facilitating co-existence and shared marine space between different marine users, including fishers, with offshore renewables is a key objective of the process to establish DMAPs.”

The ‘Carbon Footprint of the Irish Seafood Sector’ report by the State fisheries development agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which took two years to complete, acquiring data from the industry and other stakeholders, found that carbon emissions for the sector are less than 2% of those produced in other key food sectors. This includes emissions for both farmed and wild-caught seafood. Farmed mussels, oysters and wild-caught mackerel have very low carbon emissions according to the study.

Co-operation, mutual understanding and respect amongst all involved in offshore development is the best way forward in maritime development for this island nation.

Tom MacSweeney

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