Quantifying benefits and impacts of fishing exclusion zones around Marine Renewable Energy Installations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Tidal, wave and offshore wind resources will be important for meeting an increasing proportion of society's future energy needs. However, marine renewable energy devices are likely to have direct impacts and indirect effects on shelf and coastal environments and biota across a range of spatio-temporal scales. These potential effects (both positive and negative) have implications for pelagic, demersal and benthic fish and invertebrate (shellfish) populations, their essential habitats and the fisheries they support. Globally, there is at present a very limited understanding of how large-scale development of marine renewable energy installations (MREI) will affect fish and shellfish populations and the fisheries that exploit them.

Whilst some research to date has considered fish sensory responses to probable noise and electromagnetic fields associated with MREIs, the major gaps in knowledge that will have particular socio-economic importance lie in understanding the longer term behavioural and ecological responses, including habitat use by fish and shellfish, arising from marine renewable devices themselves and the areas immediately surrounding areas that exclude fishing. Hence, there is a need to quantify whether fisheries in areas adjacent to fishery exclusion zones around MREI sites in temperate regions are enhanced by the hypothesised biological 'spillover' effect, how MREI areas may be connected biologically, and the biological and socio-economic effects of displacing exploitation pressure from MREI sites to adjacent areas.

In the proposed research we will use a novel combination of behavioural tracking, density estimations and modelling approaches to address whether 'spillover' of species abundance (fish, shellfish) as a consequence of the no-fishing area around MREIs enhance adjacent areas. We propose to conduct research at a small-spatial scale, wave energy test site (the Wave Hub, off Hayle, Cornwall) and a Round 1 (R1) 30-turbine offshore wind farm (North Hoyle, off Rhyl, North Wales) and the area north of this towards the R2 Gwynt-y-Mor wind farm currently under construction. Our approach in these locations will be to quantify where large numbers of fish and shellfish of several species (e.g. edible crab, lobster, Atlantic cod, thornback ray) are located in relation to MREI, adjacent and more distant areas, and how much time they spend in those locations over annual cycles. We will then use this precise spatial information for several hundred individuals to scale up to potential population levels using relative abundance data from surveys for these focal species in those areas. From this, empirical estimates of the magnitude of spillover and its spatio-temporal dynamics will be made. These will be compared with spatial fishery models, to assess how rates of exchange of animals between areas accessible and inaccessible to fishing determine outcomes in terms of both spawning potential and fishery yield. We will use an individual-based modelling approach to identify how patterns of space use by fish/shellfish determine these outcomes when MREIs are introduced into stock areas. This research will also undertake a socio-economic analysis of the impacts and benefits to fisheries of MREIs that exclude fishing, and the effects of displacement of fishing exploitation to adjacent areas.

These data will be contextualised with the relative abundance of predators of fish (seabirds, marine mammals) in MREI and adjacent areas together with how fish and shellfish movements and space use change in response to variations in the physical environment (wave height, current velocity) will allow a deeper understanding of the drivers of distributional change in target species in MREI and adjacent areas. The proposed research will benefit from using novel tracking technologies, including an acoustic monitoring array that is unique to the UK, to obtain the first long-term movement data for multiple species around MREI sites.

Planned Impact

See main proposal


10 25 50
Description We have built a unique multi-taxon view of the marine biodiversity inside and outside the Wave Hub marine renewable energy site.
We have assessed the utility of novel and existing survey and monitoring methods in the process, providing knowledge of techniques and associated challenges.
The natural variation in marine communities found around the site illustrates the importance of long-term monitoring to be able to provide baseline data that can be used to identify effects/change cause by introduced infrastructure and/or energy devices.
Exploitation Route The dataset should be continued beyond the infrastructure installation stage (current) and used as baseline data for environmental assessment of renewable energy devices and arrays at Wave Hub (future).
The project findings illustrate the significant natural spatial and temporal (annual) variation found in marine communities that needs consideration by the marine renewables community when thinking about and/or implementing impact studies.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Education,Energy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport

URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8ORL4r99yk&list=PL868210A42F3C27E1
Description UoE have recently completed and delivered a detailed analysis of all seabirds detected at the Wave Hub site (n = 29 surveys; commenced 2009, with almost no data collection in 2011). This report was commissioned by Wave Hub and the environmental consultants Halcrow to assist in future environmental impact assessment studies at the Wave Hub site for the planned installation of floating wind technology, to be funded by ETI. The Univ. of Exeter dataset provides the most detailed and comprehensive assessment of seabirds at the site and will no doubt be used to aid the decision-making processing relating to environmental consenting by UK statutory consultees. The report has been shaped following detailed dialogue with Natural England by Halcrow. Environmental report on the impact of floating wind renewables on seabirds. The baseline environmental data acquired by UoE during the project has been important leverage in a successful European funding (H2020) consortium bid to develop, test and assess a wave energy device and array at the Wave Hub site. A world first, this is an important step in moving towards commercial application of this energy generation concept and technology.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Energy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Title Baseline Ecological dataset at the Wave Hub test facility 
Description Multi year (2-5 year) ecological baseline dataset of abundance, diversity, distribution and composition of marine species and communities. Including passive and active acoustic, video, catch and observational data. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Used as leverage to acquire funding to assess the environmental impact of a wave energy device and array. 
Description The work led to biodiversity assessment work in Mynmar with WCS. Funded 
Organisation Wildlife Conservation Society
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution All members became involved. Post Doc Bicknell is now consulting in the region. Our input were techniques we had developed in QBEX.
Collaborator Contribution Funding, guidance and publicity,
Impact We have produced a Biodiversity Atlas and associated press
Start Year 2015
Title Web-based data discovery tool being populated with boundary, locations, audio and videos from NERC (and other) data sampling campaigns. 
Description Web based portal 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact just launched 
URL https://expl.ore.exeter.ac.uk/explore