Commercial fishing within offshore wind installations is banned in most of Europe, with the notable exceptions of Denmark and the UK. And it seems that France, where the first offshore turbines should be turning in 2018, will follow a middle course, allowing daytime fishing, but not at night.
It is up to individual countries to decide what activities are allowed within wind farms. In France, the Grand Nautical Committee (GNC), which includes all interested parties, makes recommendations regarding navigation and safety to the Maritime Prefect, a state representative, who makes a final decision before each project starts coming online.
The regulations on fishing and recreational boating could vary, but it is likely the safety regulations will be the same for all installations, explained Pierre Peysson, manager of the Fecamp project for WPD Offshore, part of the Eolien Maritime France (EMF) consortium led by EDF Energies Nouvelles.
The GNC has so far recommended that fishing be allowed in the Fecamp, Courseulles-sur-Mer and St-Nazaire projects, all awarded to EMF, within certain constraints. At Fecamp for example, the GNC recommends that trawling be allowed, but not within 200 metres of the rows of turbines, and no fishing of any kind where the inter-array cables converge around the substation.
This decision is testament to the work the developers have done to accommodate fishing, such as aligning the rows of turbines with the current and burying the cables. "It is a very positive signal," Peysson said. The size of modern turbines - all three projects use Alstom's Haliade 6MW machines - also helps, because they allow wider corridors.
On the other hand, the committee recommends that night fishing is banned because the search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter pilots are concerned about flying within a wind farm at night. If upheld by the prefect, it is a disappointing outcome for the fishermen. "For us, banning night fishing is like banning all our fishing activities," says Florent Mahe, of the maritime fisheries committee of Haute-Normandie.
Peysson hopes solutions can be found. The consortium is drawing up emergency response plans for each wind farm in cooperation with the emergency services and will carry out various test exercises, including night-time rescue. "France will look at what is possible elsewhere and adapt in the best way," Peysson believes.
In the UK and Denmark, where night fishing is allowed, helicopter pilots are used to operating around oil and gas platforms. Night-time medical evacuation may also be necessary during construction or maintenance work on a wind farm installation, or if a vessel gets into trouble and drifts into the area. While the final decision is up to the helicopter pilot, certain measures can help, such as adequate lighting of the tower and nacelle. "If there is a problem and the helicopter needs to escape from the turbine and descend between the rows, then you don't see the turbine any more," explains Jorgen Andersen, CEO of Danish helicopter operator Uni-Fly.
Nevertheless, it is still difficult work. More commonly, the injured person is transferred to a vessel and taken outside the area, where they can be picked up by helicopter more easily. Accidents among wind-farm workers are fortunately rare events. In 2014, the G9 Offshore Wind and Health Safety Association, comprising nine of the largest developers, recorded just 27 "emergency response or medical evacuation" incidents at their European sites.
Instead, it is more likely to be fishermen who get into trouble, and for them, the wind farms may actually make life safer. Not only are there more workboats and crew transfer vessels around, which can respond in an emergency, but modern installations also have additional radar and cameras to monitor activity in the area. The French fishermen are now waiting to see what the authorities decide.