Fishing and the changing environment they work within. Their ‘office’!

Posted by Matthew Frow, Kingfisher Information Manager on 18 March 2015

When buying fish in your weekly shop, or having your fish and chips on a Friday, how often do you think of the challenging environment our fishermen work in? Like a lot of us, probably not very often.

You may find that after following the BBC series, 'Trawlermen', or ITV's 'Trawlermen's Lives', people are better aware of the confined conditions, long hours, heavy seas or harsh weather that our fishermen often experience. But I imagine very few will be aware of the dangers fishermen encounter whilst plying their trade amongst the other offshore industries and their associated structures.

Through my work in the Kingfisher division of Seafish, I am very aware of the huge array of surface and subsea structures, prohibited zones and conflicting offshore activities that our fishermen encounter. This may relate to the oil & gas, subsea cable, renewable energy, marine aggregate industries, or perhaps the Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

There are a huge number of structures on the UK Continental Shelf which come in many different forms. There are over 13,000 miles of oil & gas pipeline; over 300 oil & gas platforms, some of which in the North Sea are the size of the Eiffel Tower and each with a 500 metre zone prohibiting entry. There are over 180 suspended wellheads, each the height of a London bus, over 30,000 miles of subsea cables and over 30 wind farms, the largest of which could fit over 12,500 football pitches within its perimeter. I'm sure you're getting the drift - it's not all clear fishing grounds out there.

Very few of these structures are protected by safety zones, which prohibit entry by fishermen. Fishing in grounds where cables, wind farms or oil & gas structures exist is commonplace.

Sadly, in the past, manmade offshore structures have been associated with the loss of fishing vessels and the loss of fishermen on-board. If fishing gear becomes snagged on a manmade structure, attached to the seabed, it leaves the vessel in a very dangerous position. These situations demand quick thinking, incredible skill from the Skipper and a small helping of luck, to ensure a safe outcome.

Although the impact of offshore structures will differ, depending on the size of fishing vessel and type of fishing, the majority of our fishermen will have had to adapt in an attempt to coexist with these industries. Fishermen may have been displaced due to new developments, or there may be a new pipeline or structure installed in their fishing grounds, which they must be aware of.

Over the years I have been working in Kingfisher, there has been a great increase in the number of structures and zones fishermen now need to be aware of. These maps highlight the change in offshore activity within the Irish Sea, from 2002 to 2015.

 Matt 2015 pic


Subsea cable and oil & gas infrastructure has increased, although with the biggest change has been the development of wind farms. The map for 2015, also includes the MCZs (designated and proposed), wave and tidal consented zones and aggregate dredging areas. I'm sure you'll agree, our seas are only becoming more congested, with greater need for all industries to work together in an attempt to coexist.

There might be little we can do at Kingfisher to change offshore development, but we do everything we can to keep fishermen aware of these important areas and potentially hazardous structures.