The socio-economic interactions of marine renewable energy development and the commercial fishing industry on the island of Ireland

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Reilly, Kieran
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University College Cork
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The global increase in energy demand and the need to reduce carbon emissions necessitates the use of alternative sources of energy such as marine renewable energy (MRE). For the purpose of this thesis, MRE refers to offshore wind, tidal and wave energy. The island of Ireland, comprising the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, has a significant marine energy resource and policies are in place to maximise the potential for MRE development. As the offshore wind sector expands and tidal and wave energy moves towards commercialisation, these will have an impact on existing sectors and traditional users of Ireland’s marine resources. Commercial fishermen are arguably the stakeholder group most likely to be directly impacted by the development of MRE projects. For Ireland, fishing remains an important sector for coastal communities in terms of employment and income. The development of MRE could potentially result in loss of access to fishing grounds which would have socio-economic implications for fishermen. Spatial conflicts and the opposition of fishermen to projects, could hinder the development of the MRE sector in Ireland. The successful development of the sector will depend to a considerable extent on the ability of both sectors to co-exist and the acceptance of projects by fishermen. As such, mitigation planning is important. However, studies on the socio-economic interactions of MRE and commercial fishing are rare. This thesis aims to address this gap and to provide recommendations to enable the development of the MRE sector in Ireland sustainability with the existing and established commercial fishing sector. This thesis consists of three case studies involving MRE projects around the island of Ireland at various stages of planning and development. A mixed methods approach, which consisted of a survey and follow-up interview, was used to gather quantitative and qualitative data on the attitudes and experiences of fishermen at the case study sites. In total, 104 complete surveys were conducted with fishermen located at ports in the vicinity of the case study sites and 14 of these fishermen were subsequently interviewed. In addition, fisheries liaison officers from MRE projects in the UK were also interviewed regarding their experiences on these projects. The research findings from the case studies are presented in three peer-reviewed journal articles reproduced in this thesis. Firstly, in order to reduce the risk of spatial conflict and to enable decision-making based on the co-existence of the two sectors, a better understanding of the attitudes of fishermen towards the development of MRE projects in their locality was required. A survey was designed to provide quantitative information on fishermen’s attitudes to MRE, perceived opportunities and impacts associated with MRE, and suggestions for mitigation. Of the fishermen surveyed, 40% agreed that it is important to develop MRE in their locality. A further 15% were neutral on this matter. It is encouraging for developers and policy makers that the majority of respondents (70%) were of the opinion that fisheries and MRE projects can co-exist. Alternative employment was the most cited opportunity. The loss of access to traditional fishing grounds, and the associated loss of income, was a concern for the majority (79%) of fishermen. The main mitigation options suggested were more effective consultation, location of developments on non-fishing grounds and financial compensation. Effective consultation and stakeholder engagement that enables participation in decision-making is crucial to enhancing acceptance of MRE projects among fishermen. There is agreement among experts in the field that despite its importance, the consultation process is not effective and is often carried out from the top down with little opportunity for real participation. Data gathered from the survey and interviews was analysed to examine the experiences of fishermen on their level of involvement in consultations and decision-making on the case study projects. Just over half (56%) of the fishermen surveyed felt that they had been involved in consultations, while only 22% felt that they had been involved in decisions made on the projects. For many, the consultation process was seen as a “box-ticking exercise” carried out in order to advance the project. This study highlights the fact that fishermen feel that there is currently little opportunity for fishermen to participate in decision-making on MRE projects. The study found that the use of participatory mapping tools in the selection of sites for MRE development provides an opportunity for fishermen to influence decisions. Input from fishermen in the design and implementation of maritime spatial plans could also help to provide clarity and transparency over how trade-offs in the use of sea space are dealt with. Benefit schemes and financial compensation measures for fishermen who may be impacted by the development of MRE projects were also examined as potential mitigation options. Benefit schemes refer to additional voluntary measures that are provided by a developer to local stakeholders. This part of the research was based on the interviews conducted with fishermen and fisheries liaison officers. Analysis of the interviews found that there was uncertainty among fishermen over whether they would benefit from MRE. There was agreement between fishermen and the fisheries liaison officers on the provision of an evidence base for the calculation of disruption payments. Furthermore, a formal structure for the provision of benefits schemes for fishermen would be useful. Finally, a basic model was developed to calculate the potential compensation to be paid to fishermen who may be impacted by the development of MRE projects. The calculator can be used by developers for budgetary planning and to estimate the impact that the payment of compensation would have on expenditure. .
Marine renewable energy , Commercial fishing industry , Socio-economics
Reilly, K. 2017. The socio-economic interactions of marine renewable energy development and the commercial fishing industry on the island of Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.