Rigs to Reefs: A Critical Evaluation of the Potential for Reef Development Using Decommissioned Rigs
This paper reviews the effects existing platform and associated structures have on fish species of commercial importance and discusses what effect the decommissioning process could have on wild stocks in a North Sea context. The success of the 'rigs to reefs' programme in the Gulf of Mexico has generated some interest in adopting a similar policy on some scale in the North Sea, How this may be achieved following OSPAR 98/3 is reviewed. Studies on the aggregations of fish species have estimated that less than 1.3% of North Sea saithe stocks and less than 0.25% of North Sea cod stocks are associated with oil and gas structures. There is evidence to suggest that fish associated with platforms grow and taste better than offplatform fish, even though very small elevations in hydrocarbon contamination have been detected. Whole ecosystem-based modelling approaches to fishery management indicate that total protection or regeneration of stocks is achieved only through significant area closures to the fishery. The present area closed to the fishery is already maintaining the North Sea fishery status quo. Converting existing structures into offshore reefs is considered unlikely to increase the present area of fishery exclusion nor improve its productivity, even if it was possible under OSPAR 98/3. There has been some speculation of a reef-dominated exclusion zone, where by the reefs act as a central attractive feature. Bringing the structures inshore for reef construction may have localised positive socio-economic impacts for coastal communities, but achieves no financial benefit for the production industries and does not remove any long-term liability. Without significant levels of state support, both in the fields of construction and liability replacement, a programme of converting rigs into reefs will be difficult to achieve in the context of the North Sea.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: July 1, 2002
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