With over 100 offshore wind farms (OWFs) installed across European and UK waters (5402 grid-connected wind turbines with a cumulative installed capacity >25 GW)1, the race for ocean space is creating spatial conflict with traditional users of the sea, especially in the heavily used North Sea. Currently, there is considerable uncertainty over the extent to which commercial fishing may co-exist with OWFs and how fish catchability and supply may be altered. For instance, if fishing is restricted or even prohibited within OWFs, it could result in displacement of fishing activity and as a consequence, leading to changes in catchability, an increase in unwanted catch, or even biodiversity impacts like bycatch. Further, there is potential for water-column impacts from OWFs, leading to changes in vertical mixing and associated primary production , with potential knock-on effects on higher trophic levels, such as zooplankton and forage fish (e.g. herring, sandeel).

Existing models try to estimate the overlap of fishing activity with OWFs, often achieved using vessel movement, fishing effort and landings data. However, to find a pathway to mitigating conflict with fisheries, there needs to be a more fundamental change in providing the evidence-base for changing fishing strategies through technological innovation.

This proposal is aimed to work (through a virtual internship) with SUSTAINOVATE, a company dedicated to implementing more sustainable fishing techniques and improving corporate responsibility. Using the company’s OCEANBOX, a cloud-based tool implemented on commercial fishing fleets to estimate target species biomass using the ships’ echosounder data, the proposed research will apply machine learning and algorithm development to map and analyse forage fish and zooplankton water column distribution in the vicinity of existing or planned OWFs. While the echosounder data is opportunistically collected, it is providing near-continuous streams of in-situ data throughout seasons, unobtainable using dedicated scientific surveys. Principal to this proposal is determining potential impacts of OWFs through quantifying the scale of spatio-temporal water-column effects in a changing seascape.

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