MARINE experts at Aberdeen university have called for more research on the short and long-term threats posed by North Sea oil spills and leaks to European fisheries.
The report, presented to the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament, also says that lessons learned in the North Sea will be applicable to the new areas of oil and gas exploration opening up in European waters, such as the Mediterranean and Baltic seas.
The report - “The Impact of Oil & Gas Drilling Accidents on EU Fisheries” - is the first to study the impact of oil and gas related incidents and accidents in relation to fisheries in EU waters.
It warns that, although exceptional incidents such as oil rig blow-outs and tanker spills have had the largest short-term impact on the environment and on fisheries, small accidents have had an “unknown impact” on fish stocks.
Dr David Green, from the university’s Institute for Coastal Science and Management, said: “Our report concluded that more needs to be done to look into both the short- and long-term effects of these spills on fisheries, fish species and the ecosystem.
“After any big incident there is an enquiry and it is very much in the public eye, but after the initial investigations, we found that scientific studies do not always investigate the long-term effects of, for example, spills on the eco-system and on marine life.”
He continued: “We know a lot about the short term – such as estimates of fish numbers affected - but we know relatively little about the duration and effects of oil in the system. How far does it spread? How long does it persist? How toxic is the oil? And does the system clean itself over time?
“Most research often focuses only on the event at the time and then interest fades without the funds to carry on further research studies.”
He added: “The impact of any major incident goes beyond the environmental fallout. After the Braer tanker spill off Shetland in 1993, there was a direct and sustained negative effect on local fisheries.
“In many European countries where fish consumption is high there is growing concern about what impact oil and gas drilling may have on the fisheries resource – not to mention the effects on tourism and the economies of these areas.”
With drilling operations now expanding into the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Baltic, the report urges the EU to liaise more closely with non-EU states to ensure those countries also adopt the same stringent health and safety rules, response and compensation legislation as those that have been developed for the North Sea.