Towards sustainability of marine governance

By: Emilia Samuelsson

The oceans are shared by a myriad of different stakeholders, and the growth of the offshore renewable energy sector brings increased potential for conflict. Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs) should enable simultaneous harnessing of the energy of the wind and seas but also protect our marine environment from overexploitation. In addition, the seas should continue to be able to provide healthy nourishment and sustainable livelihoods to coastal communities and beyond.

MSPs can provide countries with guidance and frameworks to learn from in order to better plan the management of our marine environment, strengthening community involvement in the process, and facilitate constructive stakeholder dialogues. In Europe, this process is vital to reach the aim of the European Green Deal to live sustainably within the planetary boundaries. For example, MSPs should support both the protection of 30 percent of our seas over the next ten years, as outlined in the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy, as well as increasing EU offshore wind capacity to 30 times current levels by 2050, as outlined in the Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy. To fulfil the requirements of the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive member states are required to prepare and adapt spatial plans for territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones by March this year.

The European Commission acknowledges the conflict challange between different sectors. “Our Green Deal cannot be successful without public support,” said Commissioner Kadri Simson when prompted by a French journalist who enquired about local resistance to offshore wind projects. According to Simson, engaging with the local population is of paramount importance for national authorities in order to “move from public acceptance to public support” when it comes to offshore wind deployment.

The Greens in the European Parliament have published a new report on best practice in maritime spatial planning. The report reviews present practice in MSP in the EU and beyond. It identifies best and good practice for MSP models that can be pursued as opportunities to showcase co-operation between stakeholders, where the outcome is mutually beneficial to fisheries, renewable energy production, and marine protection.

The report distinguishes between two interpretations of the role of MSPs. The primary task of MSPs can be described as sea-use regulation. This entails the regulation of activities in marine space through zoning and designation of usage. This approach is the most common one. MSPs may also perform a strategic visionary role and establish a coherent policy framework for future decision-making. Strategic vision statements are essential to achieve the cross-sectoral, integrated ambitions of MSPs. This approach can support the identification of potential synergies across policy sectors. Both interpretations of MSPs are important to their role in conflict management.

In addition to these approaches another focus has emerged with the communicative shift in planning practice that brings a view of planning as a transdisciplinary process. A communicative approach has highlighted that spatial planning has the potential to enable “transformative practices”. MSPs should also be concerned with “place-making” at sea – shaping how sea spaces develop through future-oriented transformative spatial strategies. In this way, MSPs can act as a catalyst for change rather than merely a regulatory function.

Another study commissioned by the PECH Committee of the European Parliament focuses on the impact of the use of offshore wind on fisheries. Mitigation measures have been identified to reduce conflict potential and should be picked up in an MSP process, for instance in the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) . These comprised 1) early stakeholder consultation to detect conflict potential at an early stage and acknowledge the importance of all actors; 2) facilitation of negotiation processes by independent third parties and the creation of guidelines for the expansion of offshore renewables; 3) compensation payments for the disturbance and the associated loss of income or additional expenditures. All three measures aim to contribute to a reduction in impact. Co-design approaches for the co-location of offshore renewables with other uses can reduce the impact potential on fisheries, strengthen relationships with sectors of concern, and even enable beneficial co-operation between them.

Denmark is one of the examples of best-practice for co-existence between fisheries and offshore wind farms which is included in the study by PECH. The Danish Energy Agency (DEA) surveyed possible sites in the North Sea and Baltic Sea for an 18 GW offshore wind farm. The Danish Fisheries Act foresees a consultancy process in which developers present and discuss their development plans directly to the fishing industry. Negotiations include potential mitigation measures as well as compensation for financial disruption or displacement, due to the wind farm itself or the export cable corridor. Among possible mitigation measures are the inclusion of fishermen in the construction and operation of the wind farm, or permitting passive fisheries within the site. Negotiations on compensation are carried out by the Danish Fishermen’s Association and verified by an independent consultant. The amount of the compensation payment depends on the analysed impact on fisheries.

The project Baltic Energy Areas – A Planning Perspective (BEA-APP) highlights the lessons learned regarding stakeholder involvement. Important recommendations to add to those mentioned above include interactive communication methods that are suitable in the process of stakeholder involvement to promote cooperation in planning and implementation of renewable energy projects. Stakeholder involvement should give confidence to all participating parties that their contribution to the spatial planning and development of renewable energy projects is not a waste of time and that individual opinions are considered.

Vertical stakeholder integration increases robustness of multilevel governance structures, especially in areas with overlapping responsibilities. Sustainable MSPs need to be based on a robust bottom-up framework of multilevel governance. Studies have shown that learning and capacity building at multiple governance levels through transboundary initiatives works as an enabler for conflict solutions.


Emilia Samuelsson


O’Sullivan (2021). Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning: Towards Mutually Beneficial Outcomes for Fishers, Renewable Energy Production and Marine Conservation. On behalf of the Greens in the European Parliament

Stelzenmüller et al. (2020). Impact of the use of offshore wind and other marine renewables on European fisheries. Research for the PECH committee.

Bremere et al. (2018). Stakeholder involvement plans: Transnational lessons learned report on stakeholder involvement. Baltic Energy Areas – A Planning Perspective. Baltic Environmental Forum – Latvia.

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