Combination of passive fishing and marine aquaculture one step closer to profitable practice

The spatial combination of a sea farm – where mussels, oysters and seaweed grow – and passive fishing with innovative baiting techniques has been extensively tested off our coast in the past three years. That it succeeds is good news, because both activities, unlike traditional (active) beam trawling, are allowed in wind farm zones. Light, sound and smell appear to be successful techniques for catching more cuttlefish, shrimp and fish on the bottom of a multi-species sea farm. Additionally, tools have been developed that allow sea farm operators to better plan sea trips. The results of the VLAIO and Blue Cluster project SYMAPA were presented to press and stakeholders on 24 November 2022 in Ostend by project partners Colruyt Group, Brevisco, AtSeaNova, Flemish Fish Auction, the Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO) and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS).

North Sea Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne was there: “We are going to develop the Belgian part of the North Sea as the powerhouse of our country and as an engine of innovation and self-sufficiency. Therefore, in addition to wind farms and floating solar panels, we also want to cultivate seaweed in the North Sea to make biofuel. For this we have allocated 250,000 euros of research money. In the wind farms we can produce food in addition to energy. We import 70% of our marine food in Europe, which illustrates that there is still a lot of potential in our country for mariculture and passive fishing. Proteins extracted in this way from seaweed or shellfish no longer need to be produced through animal husbandry or fishing. The results of the SYMAPA project show that important steps have been taken to make it not only technically and biologically but also economically feasible to combine not one, but two or even three activities in the same North Sea zone.”

Schematic representation of pot fishing on the seabed (image: ILVO)

10 Times More Cuttlefish in Pots with Fluorescent Fibers

In passive “pot fishing”, fish and other marine animals are lured to and caught in pots on the bottom of the sea. This form of selective fishing has little bycatch, little to no bottom impact and little fuel consumption. The pots are emptied regularly and the catch is alive when collected on board, which improves quality.

Fishing capacity can also be optimized through the use of light, sound and, potentially, smell. This is evident from trials conducted by ILVO in the Westdiep zone off the coast of Nieuwpoort:

  • The results for cuttlefish are impressive: by replacing the net of a standard cuttlefish pot with a fluorescent type of fibers, the scientists caught 10 times more cuttlefish.
  • Other techniques that significantly increased catches were the use of LED lights in pots for gray and sturgeon shrimp, sounds of eating in pots for roundfish and the smell of banana in pots for flatfish.

Mattias Van Opstal and Jasper Van Vlasselaer (ILVO): “The study provided a toolkit of innovative techniques that fishermen can use to increase catch in pots. Depending on the spot in the sea and the species present there, one or the other baiting technique will be more interesting to them.”

Passive Catches Score Well on Quality and Taste

SYMAPA partner Vlaamse Visveiling (Flemish Fish Auction) is already satisfied with the quality of the passive capture strategy. Sylvie Becaus (Vlaamse Visveiling): “Not only were we getting more cuttlefish in – a commercially interesting species – the quality of the products was also excellent: extremely fresh and not bruised.”

Tests in the taste lab of the Food Pilot of ILVO and Flanders’ FOOD in Melle confirmed this difference in quality: passively caught cuttlefish received better scores from the professionally trained taste panel than cuttlefish landed as bycatch in beam trawling.

Smart Aquafarming

The North Sea is a well-monitored ecosystem. RBINS but also ILVO and several European partners collect data to monitor the health of fish stocks and of the wider marine ecosystem. RBINS also designed useful tools for planning sea trips. A platform for five-day marine forecasts on tides, wind speeds, wave height, etc., was already in place (the Marine Forecasting Centre), but thanks to SYMAPA and the EU-H2020 FORCOAST-project there is now also a modelling tool to predict the best period for the installation of splash collectors. With those devices, cultivators collect stray seeds of mussels and oysters for subsequent rearing. Too-early placement can cause the nuisance of fouling; too-late placement can ruin the harvest.

Léo Barbut and Geneviève Lacroix (RBINS): “Thanks to these modeling tools, we are another step closer to smart aquafarming. Operators of marine farms can use data to plan when to go to sea for maintenance of their facilities, for seed collection and ultimately for harvesting.”

Mussel Culture and Facilities Optimized

A previous project Edulis already successfully cultivated mussels between wind farms 30 to 50 km from the Belgian coast. SYMAPA coordinator Brevisco also demonstrated in the privately funded Nearshore Mussel project that large-scale mussel farming in the Belgian North Sea is technically and economically feasible. The Belgian “blue mussel” is larger and meatier (40-45% meat values) than the Zeeland mussel (30-35% meat values). It also grows faster and tastes good. In SYMAPA, the cultivation technique was optimized to the beautiful result of 16 kg of mussels per meter. Thanks to seemingly minor adjustments to the installations, there is now also no damage during storms. The installations have been made to be stable and “North Sea-proof”.

Mussel culture lines are reeled in to control the harvest (image: Brevisco)

High Quality Oysters from the Belgian North Sea

The past project Value@Sea demonstrated that the endangered European flat oyster can be cultivated in the North Sea. In SYMAPA, cultivation techniques were further refined in the Westdiep zone, with varying degrees of success. Quality flat oyster farming near the coast is possible but the rapid growth of unwanted organisms (fouling) on the baskets is a technical obstacle that must be overcome for commercially viable farming. It obstructs the flow of fresh seawater, periodically depriving the oysters of enough nutrients to grow.

Fouling on the oyster baskets (image: Colruyt Group)
Quality farmed European flat oysters (image: Colruyt Group)

Colruyt Group remains committed to research to eventually grow flat oysters in the Westdiep zone. Today, Colruyt Group is building our country’s first commercial sea farm there where the first 50 mussel lines of phase 1 will be installed and the first limited harvest is expected in the summer of 2023.

Wannes Voorend (Colruyt Group): “Growing multiple species in a sea farm would allow us to offer a broader pallet of marine products and combining activities also has some operational advantages. The applications in Westdiep Sea Farm are already promising, but we are doing this in a step-by-step approach towards commercial farming.”

Quest for Seaweed Growing Installations that can Resist the North Sea Currents

For seaweed, the natural conditions in the North Sea are an persisting technical challenge. In SYMAPA, both horizontal and vertical structures were tested by partner AtSeaNova. Horizontal structures perform fine on calm waves but in the North Sea the pulling force is too great. That is why they switched to vertical installations with loose suspension lines. It is these structures that are now being further tested in the ongoing EU-H2020 project UNITED.

Useful data for Marine Spatial Plan

The Belgian part of the North Sea is only 3,500 km² but interesting for a variety of activities. Think of mariculture, fishing and energy production but also shipping, sand extraction, recreation, nature and coastal protection. Planning these different activities in the Marine Spatial Plan is a difficult but important puzzle. In the current plan (2020-2026), marine aquaculture is allowed only in the Westdiep and wind farm zones. Passive fishing is also allowed in both, unlike classic beam trawling which is not allowed around the windmills.

Bert Groenendaal (Brevisco), coordinator of SYMAPA: “That synergies between mariculture and passive fishing are possible is a major boost from this project. There is now a toolkit of innovative fishing techniques, mussel farming has been optimized, and there are forecasting models that also make the combination of marine activities more logistically and economically feasible.”

Options for multiple spatial use are an important asset in the Belgian part of the North Sea (image: Marine Spatial Plan 2020-2026)

 

Article largely based on ILVO press release, 24 November 2022

Interactive socio-economic workshop (UNITED) – 7 December 2022 @De Cierk, Ostend

WE NEED YOU! Share your opinion on the first tests on oyster and seaweed cultivation and oyster reef restoration in the offshore wind farm Belwind, accompanied by a tasty oyster, delicious seaweed products and an active brainstorm.

Multi-use of space at sea. What is it? How can it be applied in the Belgian part of the North Sea? What are the economic and social benefits? What are the expected challenges? The UNITED project has investigated this by conducting a successful test in the offshore wind farm Belwind, studying both oyster and seaweed cultivation and the restoration of oyster reefs. Through an interactive workshop, the first results will be presented and discussed with the general public, with room for questions-andanswers, discussion rounds and the expression of possible expectations and concerns. The workshop is set up in such a way that the morning focuses on the economic aspect and the afternoon on the social aspect. Participants can participate in either or both sessions, and a themed lunch will be provided between both sessions.

Register now via this link.

Programme

MORNING – ECONOMIC PART

09h00 – 09h30  Welcoming and ice breaker exercise – up to you now!
09h30 – 09h45  What is the project UNITED?
09h45 – 09h50  Workshop objectives
09h50 – 10h10  Multi-use in the Belgian Pilot and Business Analysis of the Belgian pilot – lessons learned / What is multi-use and how can we apply it in the Belgian part of the North Sea? / Presenting the business case and main results: the pilot, products and services, key revenues and costs, key messages, etc.
10h10- 10h25  Socio-economic characterization of the pilot
Presenting the main socio-economic activities that will surround the pilot
10h25-10h40  Break
10h40-12h00  Brainstorm on potential economic impacts (positive and negative) of the multi-use activities / A discussion with the stakeholders with focus on:
– Extra elements for the business case.
– The other socio economic activities / impacts that were not considered and their impacts (increase in employment, development in activity, increase in revenue, etc.)
– The missing information (in particular seaweed and aquaculture activities)
– Environment: impact on ecosystem services/marine environment.

12h00–13h30  LUNCH ! Come and taste oysters, seaweed products and delicious sandwiches

AFTERNOON – SOCIAL PART

13h30-13h35  Welcome, Silke Beirens, Schepen Mens & Milieu, Stad Oostende

13h35-13h45  Objectives of the social part of UNITED
Presentation of UNITED and the Belgian pilot (if we have new joiners) / What are the objectives of the social part of the workshop? / What are social impacts?
13h45-14h45  Presentation of scenarios – seaweed farming, oyster farming and oyster reef restoration – inside an offshore wind farm: identification of possible social impact. Several options will be presented:
– Each activity in a separate sea area (no multi-use of space)
– Wind farm combined with one other activity (seaweed farming, oyster farming or oyster reef restoration)
– Wind farm combined with several other activities: oysters and seaweed / aquaculture and nature restoration
14h45-15h45  Ranking of previously identified social impacts / assessment of acceptability / potential optimisation of solutions
15h45-16h00  Closing remarks, brief conclusion from both parts
16h00-16h30  Closing drink

Mini symposium on eDNA, 13 December 2022, Brussels (Belgium)

Programme

  • 09:00 – 09:30 Registration
  • 09:30 – 10:00 Welcome & Introduction
  • 10:00 – 10:30 “Towards autonomous monitoring of fish diversity in the North Sea”Prof. Sofie Derycke (ILVO Marine, Marine Genomics Unit, Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food & Dpt. Of Biology, Ghent University, Belgium)
  • 10:30 – 11:10 Coffee break
  • 11:10 – 11:40 “Invertebrate-derived DNA (iDNA) for biomonitoring and pathogen surveillance”Dr. Jan Gogarten (Applied Zoology and Nature Conservation, University of Greifswald and the Helmholtz Institute for One Health, Germany)
  • 11:40 – 12:10 “Monitoring terrestrial mammals via aquatic eDNA in savannah systems”Dr. Tamara Schenekar (University of Graz, Austria)
  • 12:10 – 14:00 Lunch break
  • 14:00 – 14:30 “The power of eDNA-based methods for fish and amphibian communities in freshwater environments”Prof. Rein Brys (Research Institute for Nature and Forest & Terrestrial Ecology Unit, University of Ghent, Belgium)
  • 14:30 – 15:00  “Improving whole biodiversity monitoring with eDNA metagenomics” – Prof. Hugo Gante (Royal Museum for Central Africa & KULeuven, Belgium)

Full poster/invitation : eDNA_mini symposium invitation_RBINS

New study shows recent sea vessels are emitting more nitrogen in the Belgian North Sea

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) has conducted a large-scale study on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from ships in the Belgian part of the North Sea. Our waters are part of a low-emission zone for NOx (NECA) that was established to limit its harmful impact on the densely populated coastal states around the North Sea. The study shows that the majority of ships meet the emission standards. However, the measurements also illustrate that recent ships in Belgian waters have higher average NOx emissions than older ships. This is remarkable given that international regulations aim to reduce NOx emissions in the NECA just gradually, with recent ships having to meet stricter standards than older ships.

The Belgian air surveillance aircraft in action during a flight with the sniffer sensor.

With the application of a sniffer sensor in the Belgian air surveillance aircraft, owned by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and frequently deployed within Coast Guard duties, our country is known as a pioneer in the international fight against air pollution from ships at sea. The sensor allows on-site measurement of various air pollutants in ship emissions. Sulphur dioxide measurements have been on the programme since 2016. Since the integration of a NOx sensor in 2020, the aircraft also measures the concentration of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The operators of the Belgian air surveillance aircraft in action during a flight with the sniffer sensor.

Need to Reduce NOx Emissions

That obtaining an effective reduction in NOx emissions, including those caused by shipping, is an important objective stems from the negative effects of NOx on public health and our living environment. Nitrogen oxides penetrate deep into the lungs and are a promoter of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, they play an important role in the formation of ozone, which is not only a very strong greenhouse gas but can also cause respiratory problems. Furthermore, NOx play a role in the formation of particulate matter. Finally, NOx contribute to eutrophication and acidification of marine and terrestrial environments.

Satellite images visualise nitrogen dioxide NO2 emissions at sea and on land, including clearly highlighted shipping lanes in the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea (in addition to highly urbanised and industrialised zones on land). Note that very high NO2 values are observed not only in the Belgian North Sea, but also throughout Flanders, with an outlier above Antwerp.

Following the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and English Channel were designated as emission control areas, with the aim of better protecting the densely populated coastal regions and sensitive sea areas of the North Sea states from the ill effects of NOx. As shipping density is very high here, and busy shipping lanes are close to land, the reduction of NOx emissions from shipping is particularly relevant here. Provision 13 of Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) imposes stricter limits on nitrogen emissions from ships in the North Sea NOx Emission Control Area (NECA) from 1 January 2021. It sets emission limits based on the construction date of ships. Similar to cars, for which Euro standards are defined based on the year of construction, international maritime NOx emission limits are divided into different levels or ‘Tiers’. Tier 0 applies to ships built before 2000, Tier I to ships built from 2000 to 2010, Tier II to ships from 2011 to 2020 and Tier III to ships from 2021 onwards in NECA’s. For ships from more recent age categories, this involves increasingly stricter standards than for older ships. In this way, the NECA expected Tier II ships to emit 20%, and Tier III ships 80%, less nitrogen than Tier I ships.

Emission control area in the North Sea and Baltic Sea (NECA).
Emission limits for NOx as set out in MARPOL Annex VI Provision 13.

Results of the Belgian Follow-up

With the deployment of the sniffer plane, Belgium is the only country on a global scale to already map NOx emissions from ships in this way. Two years of NOx measurements of individual ships in the Belgian part of the North Sea show that emission standards are largely met. However, contrary to expectations, it was also found that more recent seagoing ships emit more nitrogen in the operating area of the Belgian air surveillance aircraft than older ships.

In 2020 and 2021, nitrogen emissions from as many as 1407 ships were monitored during 127 flight hours. NOx values that call for further investigation were recorded for 59 of these ships. For instance, it was found that for more recent (Tier II) ships, which have to meet stricter standards, the average nitrogen value was higher than that for older ships (Tier I and Tier 0). Moreover, more Tier II ships were observed with NOx emission values that had exceeded a predetermined threshold.

The obtained percentages of ships with suspected NOx values in 2020 and 2021 illustrate the more frequent occurrence of exceedances of the established thresholds by the younger Tier II ships (the ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red flag’ categories indicate the degree of threshold exceedance).

Explanation and Further Investigation

In cooperation with the Directorate-General Shipping (FPS Mobility and Transport), the shipping industry and the Antwerp Maritime Academy, the RBINS will conduct further research into the possible causes. One explanation already cited in the study lies in the way the regulations have been drafted for Tier II ships, where NOx emissions at lower engine powers have less weight in the set standards (with even no limit at all at powers lower than 25%). The reasoning behind this is that a ship operates mainly on the higher engine powers, and therefore emissions at the higher powers should weigh more heavily. However, in the Belgian part of the North Sea, because of the busy traffic and for optimising their arrival time in port, ships often sail with lower engine power, while NOx emissions (in g NOx/kWh) are higher at the lower powers … So while more energy-efficient cruising does lead to lower fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions, it can, especially for Tier II vessels, also lead to higher NOx emissions. Other pollutants may also increase with lower engine power, such as black carbon and particulate matter. The international regulations that just envisage a reduction in nitrogen emissions thus do not appear to be adapted to the specific sailing conditions in the southern North Sea.

A possible solution to eliminate this unexpected impact of international regulations could be to add a not-to-exceed threshold for NOx emissions regardless of the engine power and construction date of ships. Such Not To Exceed (NTE) limit has been set in the regulations for Tier III ships so there is good hope that this latest generation of ships does lead to NOx emission reductions in our sea areas. The problem remains that even for Tier III ships, no limit was set below an engine power of 25%.

Keel Laying Date

Finally, a weakness in international regulations is that it remains possible to build new ships to old standards for too long. In the regulations, the Keel Laying Year, the year in which a ship’s keel is laid and registered, determines which Tier the ship enters. Of all ships built in 2021, barely 13% turn out to be Tier III ships. It was found that the time between construction date and keel laying date increased sharply with the implementation of the NECA in the North Sea in 2021. In this way, recent ships can still enter Tier II and consequently do not have to comply with the stricter Tier III limit that guarantees an effective reduction of NOx emissions (e.g. by applying NOx reduction systems). Therefore, Belgium (and also the Netherlands) will no longer accept ships built from 2026 onwards but with a Keel Laying Year older than 2021 as Tier II ships.

Studies such as this one show that even within a framework of stricter emission standards, shipping needs to continue its efforts to transition from the use of fossil fuels to the use of more sustainable energy sources with less impact on public health, climate and environment.

A new peanut worm for Belgian waters, and another European flat oyster

On 20 October 2022, a mooring block used for underwater noise monitoring that had been lying on the seabed for three years was recovered from the Seastar wind farm by scientific divers from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. This operation was carried out as part of the research carried out by the research vessel RV Belgica.

The anchor block had a structure that was supposed to serve as housing for a buoy cable but was now filled with sediment. In that sediment, researchers from the research team MARECO (Marine Ecology and Management) found nothing less than a new species for the Belgian waters, the peanut worm (Sipuncula) Nephasoma rimicola. The species is known from the northeastern Atlantic and has also been found in the English Channel, but was thus not previously observed in Belgium.

The peanut worm Nephasoma rimicola, new to Belgian waters (©RBINS/F. Kerckhof)

On top of that, a European flat oyster Ostrea edulis, estimated to be 2-3 years old, was found on the anchor block itself (bottom right of photo). Molecular techniques will be used to determine the origin of the oyster. A promising observation for possible oyster recovery projects in the Belgian part of the North Sea! (For background on the exceptional nature of this find, see here, among others).

The European flat oyster Ostrea edulis (bottom right) (©RBINS/J. Vanaverbeke)

Belgium chairs the European Coast Guard Functions Forum

At the end of the 13th plenary session of the European Coast Guard Functions Forum (ECGFF), held in Split from 5 to 7 September 2022, Belgium took over the role of president from Croatia.

Belgian Coast Guard presidents Piet Pieters (Federal) and Nathalie Balcaen (Flemish) received the European flag during the ceremony and exchanged information on the organisation of this important event.

This forum is a unique and excellent tool that allows us to exchange information and experiences, learn from joint exercises and devise solutions to common problems together.  In short: to strengthen our ties with the coastguard organisations of European member states.

The Belgian Coast Guard is organising several activities in the coming year:

  • a workshop together with Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency)
  • a workshop together with EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency)
  • a meeting of the Cyber Security Working Group
  • the “COASTEX 23” exercise in cooperation with EFCA (European Fisheries Control Agency)
  • a plenary conference in cooperation with DG MARE (Directorate General Maritime Affairs and Fisheries)

Thanks to the Belgian presidency, participants will get to know our diverse country and the Belgian part of the North Sea better.

The Scientific Service ‘Management Unit of the Mathematical Model of the North Sea (MUMM)’ of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) represents the Federal Science Policy Office as Coast Guard partner.

Dead Bottlenose Dolphin washed ashore in De Haan

In the shadow of the sighting of a carcass of a Fin Whale adrift in the Belgian North Sea on Friday 30 September (later washed up in Westkapelle, The Netherlands), we witnessed another exceptional stranding on Sunday 2 October. Indeed, that day a Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) washed up on the beach at De Haan.

The washed-up Bottlenose dolphin on the beach of De Haan (©NorthSealTeam).

The animal was initially perceived to be a Harbour Porpoise, only after collection it became clear that it was a Bottlenose Dolphin in an advanced state of decomposition. It was a young male barely 2.24 m long and weighing only 129 kg. Injuries to the tail suggested that the animal came into contact with the propeller of a small vessel. However, the autopsy, conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Liege, could not confirm whether a collision was the cause of death or possibly took place post-mortem. The death could possibly be linked to a starvation process, but the state of decomposition of the cadaver prevented a more complete investigation.

After collection, it became clear that the animal was a Bottlenose Dolphin (©RBINS/Francis Kerckhof).
Injuries to the tail of De Haan’s Bottlenose Dolphin (©RBINS/Jan Haelters).

It does not appear to be the Bottlenose Dolphin which is regularly seen in the western part of the Belgian waters, actively seeking human presence there. The Bottlenose Dolphin is native to the southern North Sea but has been very rare there since the 1960s. Since 1995, only two other strandings of Bottlenose Dolphins were recorded in Belgium, in 2016 and 2017.

More information on the occurrence of Bottlenose Dolphins in the North Sea and Belgium can be found in this article.

Ventral side of the washed-up Bottlenose Dolphin of De Haan (©RBINS/Jan Haelters).
Dorsal side of the washed-up Bottlenose Dolphin of De Haan (©RBINS/Jan Haelters).

Kick-off event: Vision development aquaculture and decommissioning offshore wind farms

Aquaculture at sea and the decommissioning of offshore wind farms come with a lot of opportunities and challenges.

In the Belgian part of the North Sea, a lot of action is already being taken in these areas. The federal government would like to align and consolidate these initiatives into an integrated vision. Specific attention will be paid to sustainable blue growth within the framework of protecting and restoring the marine environment and marine biodiversity.

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the Marine Environment Department of the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment will guide this process.To this end, two separate trajectories will be launched, both with a kick-off on Tuesday, October 18th, 2022 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bruges.

  • In the morning, the track on aquaculture will begin.
  • In the afternoon, the track on wind farm decommissioning will start.

In order to arrive at a widely supported vision, we would like to involve all stakeholders, to hear, from the start, as many different opinions as possible of this interactive collaboration!

  • What opportunities do you see?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What aspects should be taken into account?
  • What additional scientific information is still required?

Together we will spend the next six months developing in a transparent manner a vision for aquaculture on the one hand and wind farm decommissioning on the other, in the Belgian part of the North Sea. With this information, policy makers can then continue their work.

During this event every participant can speak his/her/their language of choice (NL/FR/ENG). However, no simultaneous interpretation will be provided.

Register through this link.

When?
Tuesday 18 October 2022

Where?
Radisson Blu Hotel, Frank Van Ackerpromenade 17, 8000 Bruges

Programme

8:45 a.m. – reception with coffee

9 a.m. – welcome

PART AQUACULTURE

9:10 a.m. introduction by Sophie Mirgaux, Marine Environment Service (FPS Health)
9:20 a.m. – plan of action by Steven Degraer, Marine Ecology and Management (MARECO)
9:30 a.m. – interactive roundtable discussions – aquaculture
10:45 a.m. – coffee break
11 a.m.– continued interactive roundtables – aquaculture

12h30 p.m. – 1.30 p.m. – lunch

PART DECOMMISSIONING WIND FARMS

1.30 p.m.– introduction by Sophie Mirgaux, Marine Environment Service (FPS Health)
1.40 p.m.  plan of approach by Steven Degraer, Marine Ecology and Management (MARECO)
1.50 p.m. – interactive roundtable discussions – wind farms decommissioning
3.15 p.m. – coffee break
3.30 p.m. – continued interactive roundtable discussions – wind farms decommissioning

4.45 p.m. – closing reception & networking opportunity

Public consultation for the installation of floating solar panels at sea

On June 16th 2022, the POM West-Vlaanderen has introduced a request for an environmental permit for the installation of floating solar panels at sea and an electric sea cable to Ostend.

Test site in the North Sea in 2020 (© Oceans of Energy; The Netherlands)

The request and the environmental impact study (including a draft appropriate assessment) can be consulted from August 22th till September 20th 2022, on weekdays from 9.00-17.00h in the offices of MUMM (Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels, person to contact: Mia Devolder (0479 265 910, mdevolder@naturalsciences.be) or in the offices of MUMM in Ostend: 3de en 23ste Linieregimentsplein, 8400 Ostend, person to contact: Jan Haelters (jhaelters@naturalsciences.be, 02/788 77 26) on reservation only.

The electronic version of the documents is also available (in Dutch) :

Application

Environmental impact study

Everybody who is concerned can send his point of view, remarks and objections by mail to MUMM, Mia Devolder (mdevolder@naturalsciences.be) until October 5th 2022.

The request can also be consulted in the offices of the local authorities of every coastal city, on working days and on appointment.

On June 16th 2022, the POM West-Vlaanderen has introduced a request for an environmental permit for the installation of floating solar panels at sea and an electric sea cable to Ostend.

Test site in the North Sea in 2020 (© Oceans of Energy; The Netherlands)

The request and the environmental impact study (including a draft appropriate assessment) can be consulted from August 22th till September 20th 2022, on weekdays from 9.00-17.00h in the offices of MUMM (Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels, person to contact: Mia Devolder (0479 265 910, mdevolder@naturalsciences.be) or in the offices of MUMM in Ostend: 3de en 23ste Linieregimentsplein, 8400 Ostend, person to contact: Jan Haelters (jhaelters@naturalsciences.be, 02/788 77 26) on reservation only.

The electronic version of the documents is also available (in Dutch) :

Application

Environmental impact study

Everybody who is concerned can send his point of view, remarks and objections by mail to MUMM, Mia Devolder (mdevolder@naturalsciences.be) until October 5th 2022.

The request can also be consulted in the offices of the local authorities of every coastal city, on working days and on appointment.

Marine mammals in Belgium in 2021

In the new report ‘Strandings and sightings of marine mammals in Belgium in 2021’, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, SeaLife Blankenberge and the University of Liège compile the results of monitoring and scientific research on marine mammals in Belgium in 2021. The doubling of the number of seals washed ashore dead, often perished in fishing nets, was the most remarkable finding.

Which dead or dying marine mammals washed up on our beaches? Which causes of death could be indicated? What are the trends of marine mammals in Belgium? How many seals has Sealife taken in? These are the questions to which one can find the answers in the latest marine mammal report, which focuses on the results from 2021.

Some of the seals with typical circular neck/head trauma (left: Ostend, 6 April; middle: Oostduinkerke, 20 March; right: Lombardsijde, 12 April). © NorthSealTeam – Fire Brigade

Many dead seals

In 2021, only harbour porpoises and seals stranded in Belgium. A dull year for marine mammal researchers after a spectacular 2020, when two Sowerby’s beaked whales and a Minke whale washed ashore? Certainly not. Indeed, the number of dead seals doubled to more than 100, compared to an almost constant number in the 2018-2020 period (44 on average). Determining the cause of death proved to be a real challenge. As many of the dead seals appeared to be ‘decapitated’, much commotion and speculation arose. In the end it turned out that many of the animals concerned had died in fishing nets. The proportion of Grey seals, which have claimed their place in the southern North Sea only more recently than the Harbour seals, has fluctuated between half and about 70% during the last 10 years.

The number of seals stranded dead or dying (blue bars) has been increasing since the beginning of the time series in 2005, and is related to the increase in the population of Harbour seals and Grey seals in neighbouring countries. However, this cannot explain the doubling in 2021. The percentage of grey seals (orange line) has been fluctuating within the same range of 50-70% in recent years. ©RBINS

Harbour porpoises

With 74 stranded Harbour porpoises, 2021 was a rather moderate year. In 10 of the years since 2005 there were more (in four years even more than 100), in the six other years less. The cause of death could be determined for 30 porpoises: 15 fell prey to Grey seals (which is a remarkable number), 12 died of infectious diseases or starvation and ‘only’ 3 drowned in fishing nets.

The time series of registered strandings of Harbour porpoises (blue bars) shows 2021 as a moderate year compared to the years since 2005. Usually slightly more than half of the dead porpoises were males (orange line), but the proportion has increased on average in recent years. ©RBINS

Four live Harbour porpoises also stranded, all of which unfortunately died soon after stranding. Aerial surveys showed almost 3,000 Harbour porpoises in our waters during June and September.

A live stranded harbour porpoise on the beach of Mariakerke (30 August 2021). ©RBINS/Jan Haelters

Rehabilitation of seals

Sealife Blankenberge took in eight Grey and 10 Common seals in 2021. Bite wounds (of unknown origin), injuries caused by the nylon rope of a fishing net, and other waste at sea (rubber ring), were at the basis of the need for rehabilitation. Six Grey seals and seven Harbour seals could be released in 2021. In contrast to the past, young Grey seals are now more often left lying on the beach: they become more numerous and they do not need our help most of the time.

The release of Grey seals Lucas and Duvel on the beach of Blankenberge (28 April 2021). Duvel (right) had a severe injury around the neck when he was taken in three weeks earlier, caused by the nylon rope of a fishing net. The traces of this injury are still visible. ©Luc David

Additional contributions

The annual report also devotes attention to the death of Grey seal Oscar. This very old seal spent his last years on our coast and in 2021 became the mascot of the voluntary seal guard and received a lot of press attention. The solitary Bottlenose dolphin, which has been turning up regularly in our waters for many years and often seeks out the company of divers, also makes an appearance in the report.

2021 marked the 75th anniversary of the International Whaling Commission. Whether there is a reason to bring out the champagne, you can read in an opinion piece.

All marine mammals are legally protected in Belgium. Monitoring of the populations and research into explanations for the observed trends, for which the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences was appointed as the responsible institute, is part of the implementation of the Royal Decree on the protection of species in marine areas under Belgian jurisdiction, whereby, among other things, the agreements made within the Coast Guard are followed. Research into the state of health and causes of death is also an obligation in international agreements, which moreover teaches us a lot about the state of the marine environment. However, the monitoring and scientific research on marine mammals are only possible thanks to the support of the local emergency and control services and the enthusiasm and willingness to report of many observers.

For information on recent sightings of marine mammals in Belgium and instructions on what to do when stranded, please visit the website marinemammals.be. The full report for 2021 (available in Dutch and French), as well as the older annual reports, can be consulted here.