Fresh calls to manage North Sea sandeel fisheries differently to prevent decline in seabird population
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) had advised no sandeel fishing should have been allowed in 2022. It comes amid concerns that a decline in sandeel stocks in the North Sea may affect some species of birds, especially black-legged kittiwake, and Sandwich tern.
Sandeels are an important part of many seabirds’ diets and stocks of sandeels have been impacted by international fishing pressures and other environmental factors.
Figures from ICES show sandeel fishing levels last year were the third highest ever recorded, similar to the levels that caused stock collapse in the 1990s.
SSE Renewables has since backed the advice by ICES and is seeking to work alongside the UK and Scottish governments as well as other stakeholders to manage Scottish sandeel fisheries to both help restore the health of the North Sea’s marine ecosystem and allow for the development of offshore wind projects such as its Berwick Bank wind farm project.
The proposed wind farm will be one of the largest offshore renewable energy developments in the world and delivering it this decade is critical to meeting the UK and Scottish governments’ 2030 offshore wind targets.
However, it is in an area that contains many important bird populations and legally protected colonies. A key part of Berwick Bank’s planning application is to propose that Scotland's largest sandeel fishery is fully closed for an extended period, with a view to improving seabird populations and supporting sustainable fishing.
SSE Renewables is also proposing additional measures to protect birds such as raising the minimum height of the turbine blades from 22m to 37m above sea level to address for bird passage through the site.
Berwick Bank project director Alex Meredith said: “We are looking to work with government to support efforts to implement an ecosystem-based approach to the management of sandeel fisheries that can support the delivery of Berwick Bank alongside supporting broader environmental goals.
“There is a considerable weight of scientific literature going back over 30 years that demonstrates that kittiwakes, and to a lesser extent, other seabirds are reliant on the availability of sandeels to breed successfully in UK waters.
“We are committed to working with the Scottish and UK governments, conservation groups and others towards the better management of sandeel fisheries in UK waters, thus creating an enhanced and sustainable food source for sea bird colonies to thrive.”
Heather Donald, head of consents for SSE Renewables, said: “While we know that new wind farms can have an impact on some bird species, we are working hard to lead the way in finding solutions to mitigate these impacts."
A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.