European fish stocks are under increasing pressure. The European Commission accepts that all important fish stocks in European waters can be described as overfished and a World Bank report claims that the worldwide cost of overfishing alone is a huge $50 Billion. The Common Fisheries Policy is our way of controlling overfishing by setting quotas for the amount fisherman are allowed to catch. Even with these quotas fish stocks are struggling to recover to sustainable levels and are being increasingly hampered by the effects of pollution and recently changing sea temperatures due to climate change.
Ironically the threat of climate change may bring about a positive change for fisheries in Europe. Offshore wind farms are looking more and more attractive as European states look to reduce their carbon emissions. It is predicted that 40GW of offshore wind capacity will be installed by 2020. This would roughly equate to 32,928km2 or 77 x 77 miles covered by wind farms. This large portion of sea designated for electricity generation might be an unexpected boon to European fish populations.
Scientific studies of existing off shore wind farms are finding they can be a great benefit to the marine ecosystem they are placed in. One major benefit is that, due to safety concerns, no fishing can take place inside the wind farm. As some of these farms can be huge, the largest constructed is off the Kent coast and covers an area of 35km2, this effect can be significant. The wind farms effectively become Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) where fishing is prohibited. This not only allows fish in the area to develop to full size but also stops the sea bed from being damaged from the scrapping of trawlers nets.
It is predicted that networks of offshore wind farms will greatly benefit fish populations by acting as MCZs. These zones may even help fisherman as fish and spawn will leave the protected areas and increase the population of nearby sea. It has been found that fisherman usually congregate near the edges of MCZs and experience much higher catches than in unprotected seas. More mature fish produce more spawn than younger fish so having an area of the sea where fish can grow to maturity can greatly help fish stocks and fisherman.
The foundations of the turbines themselves have also been show to have a positive effect. The steel ‘monopile’ the turbine is placed on has been shown to act as an artificial reef. This means smaller marine organisms grow on the hard structure, increasing the biodiversity of the area and producing a valuable food source for fish in the area.
Wind farms in the future could become teeming areas of bio-diversity and act as series of protected areas where fish can grow to maturity and reproduce in safety. The development of offshore wind farms will not only greatly reduce Europe’s carbon emissions and reliance on energy imports but may also let fish stocks recover so that they are once again being fished at a sustainable level.
These benefits pose the question of whether this should be done onshore as well. Most onshore wind farms are placed on fields grazed by sheep or cows. These grass fields are shown to be incredible un-diverse, biodiversity wise they are classed as deserts. The field itself however will financially support the farmer with only the turbines on it; maybe we should be looking to use these wind farms as nature reserves too?