Waters around the UK are changing.

One of the biggest barriers to meeting the challenges of sustaining ecosystems and preserving biodiversity is understanding the effects of a changing climate, as warming waters – combined with varying fishing quotas – are continually and dramatically altering fish populations.

Understanding fish population changes

Surveys of the Sizewell power stations published by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) provide important insight into just how significant changes in the fish community can be.

In the 1980s, herring were at an all-time low in the surrounding waters and fishing quotas were set with the aim of encouraging a recovery. At that time, herring impingement catches equated to 0.003% of the sprat catch.

By 2012, Cefas figures showed herring represented 15.6% of the total annual impingement fish kill  in the area, around one-third of the sprat catch.

Similarly, sea bass were at the northern limit of their distribution around Sizewell when a 1988 impingement survey ranked them 28th in the order of abundance. Now, warmer waters caused by climate change have allowed them to move further north and they are the fourth most common fish recorded in impingement catches.

Cost-effective safeguards

Decisions made now will be felt throughout the 60-year lifespan of the Sizewell C nuclear power station, and possibly for centuries beyond.

Environmental protection is acknowledged as a priority for everyone involved, and an AFD will not only help to preserve the species currently abundant in the area, but also provide safeguards as populations and the ecosystem change with time.

Including such a system in the design phase is vital, as the offshore cabling required can be installed as cooling water tunnels are built. Retrofitting a system once the station is up and running, if and when fish losses are recognised as unacceptable, is a much more expensive and complex undertaking.

An early decision to include an AFD therefore makes ecological, economic and logistical sense.

Learn more about the risks to fish populations at Sizewell C

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