LONDON (Reuters) - Oil platforms in the North Sea are attracting more cod and haddock than previously thought and wind farm installations could be designed with reefs in mind to help attract fish.
Scientists have long been aware of the "reef effect" whereby artificial structures in the sea act as havens for fish, but a two year study by Aberdeen University academic Toyonobu Fujii has found structures in the sea attract more fish than previously thought.
"Previously people thought that this kind of effect only extended very, very locally for each individual platform," he told Reuters in an interview.
"Currently, all the offshore platforms and the safety zones around these platforms, combined, account for only 0.08 percent of the surface area of the North Sea. However, the proportion of fish abundance estimated to aggregate around these structures was much higher than the surface area alone would suggest."
Fujii, who has analyzed trawl survey data of fish distribution in relation to oil and gas platform locations, said the reason for the higher numbers of fish was that pipelines and other sub-sea structures were also acting as reefs.
It is not yet known exactly why fish gather around the structures, Fujii said, calling for more research.
"If they are using these habitats as nursery or spawning grounds then the implications of the physical presence of these structures could be important," he said.
With the North Sea set for a makeover as a source of wind power over the next decade--the British government expects offshore wind to make up most of the renewable electricity capacity needed to reach its 2020 target--Fujii said he would like to carry out further research looking at the relationship between wind turbine structures and fish populations.
"If a certain design will attract more fish than the other, then a renewable energy structure can be redesigned to attract fish," he said.
(Reporting by Sarah Young, editing by Paul Casciato)