Elevated fish densities extend kilometres from oil and gas platforms

Joshua M. Lawrence, Douglas C. Speirs, Michael R. Heath, Toyonobu Fujii, Finlay Burns, Paul G. Fernandes

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Abstract

Thousands of offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed throughout the world’s oceans and more structures are being installed as part of the transition to renewable energy. These structures increase the availability of ecological niches by providing hard substrate in midwater and complex 3D habitat on the seafloor. This can lead to ‘hotspots’ of biodiversity, or increased densities of flora and fauna, which potentially spill over into the local area. However, the distances over which these higher densities extend (the ‘range of influence’) can be highly variable. Fish aggregate at such structures, but the range of influence and any implications for wider fish populations, are unclear. We investigated the relationship between fish and platform areal densities using high resolution fisheries acoustic data. Data were collected in the waters surrounding the vessel exclusions zones around 16 oil and gas platforms in the North Sea, and throughout the wider area. We estimated densities of schooling fish using echo-integration, and densities of non-schooling fish using echo-counting. At 10 platforms, non-schooling fish densities were elevated near the platform relative to background levels in the equivalent wider area. The range of influence, defined here as the range to which fish densities were elevated above background, varied from 0.8 to 23 km. In areas of high platform density, fish schools were encountered more often, and non-schooling fish densities were higher, when controlling for other sources of environmental variation. This is the first time such long-range effects have been identified; previously, ranges of influence have been reported in the order of just 10s-100s of metres. These findings suggest that the environmental impact of these structures may extend further than previously thought, which may be relevant in the context of upcoming management decisions around the decommissioning of these structures.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0302738
Number of pages19
JournalPLOS One
Volume19
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2024

Keywords

  • fish
  • oil and gas platforms
  • decommissioning
  • acoustics
  • anthropogenic impacts
  • man-made marine structures

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