Meet the Team: Courtney French

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Q & A
Courtney French - Fisheries Engagement Manager

Q. What’s your role at Codling Wind Park?

A. I’m the Fisheries Engagement Manager and my role is to bring offshore wind and local fishers together to facilitate a route to co-existence.

It’s a sign of how important Codling Wind Park believes co-existence is, that we’re the only offshore wind developer in Ireland to have someone in my role as a Fisheries Engagement Manager. We’re also the first to appoint a Fishing Industry Representative to be a conduit for information exchange with local fishers. He’s an ex-fisherman and fishers can talk to him about any concerns or issues they have with our plans. I also meet up face to face with local representatives from the industry, to keep that dialogue going.

I feed back to the project the concerns of fishers and endeavour to alleviate these. We also carry out regular observation studies of fishing gear on site to get an understanding of what activities take place in the area. This data has fed into our constraints mapping and influences how we develop the project. For instance, we’ve now changed the layout of our wind farm site to avoid some of the areas of very high density fishing activity.

Q. Why is this role so important for Codling Wind Park – and the industry?

A. There’s only one small offshore wind farm in Ireland to date, so it’s understandable the fishing industry have concerns about how this expanding sector will affect their livelihoods. It is my job to alleviate their worries and ensure the project has as little impact on their livelihoods as possible.

I’ve been in the industry for 14 years, so I have long-standing experience of working with fishers and offshore wind developers. I’ve seen how important engagement is and how projects can work with the fishing industry to minimise any impact on the fishing industry and facilitate co-existence.

The opportunity in Ireland is to start from a fairly clean slate; so we can bring in those lessons learned from other countries around the world. And work in a way that benefits all parties.

Q. What’s a typical day like?

A. Every day is different – the only constant is that I’m continuously reviewing the fisheries strategy for Codling Wind Park to find ways to improve it for both parties. I often have face-to-face meetings with fishers living local to the proposed site and their representatives, along with my support team and our Fishing Industry Representative.

I also spend quite a bit of time attending industry forums and working groups. I sit on Seafood ORE (Offshore Renewable Energy) Forum, and we’re working together to draft guidelines for engagement between the seafood industry and offshore wind, as there’s no Ireland-specific best practice advice yet. I bring my experience and lessons learned from working in other markets and seeing what has been effective – like the UK, which has an established offshore wind sector – to develop best practice guidelines for Ireland.

Building a long-term future with the fishing industry

Q. What type of fishing is there on the proposed site area for Codling Wind Park?

A. It’s mostly potting activity for whelks. Most of these are exported to Europe or South Korea. There is also a lobster and crab fishery in the export cable; there’s some scallop dredging, but not a lot of activity.

All the local vessels are under 12m, so they’re mostly day vessels. Some are one-man crews, but others might have two or three people on board.

Q. How do you work with the fisheries from the beginning of the project throughout its lifecycle?

A. Early and transparent engagement is key to fostering positive relationships with the fishing industry. The fishing industry is probably one of the only stakeholders an offshore wind farm has to work with throughout the lifetime of a project: from development through to decommissioning, so these are long-term relationships I want to foster. A large part of my role is understanding the fishers’ concerns and implementing measures to both mitigate those concerns and reassure the fishers. We want to work alongside them for the duration of the project – and so we are conscious of the importance of the fishers’ livelihoods and try to ensure we don’t make decisions that might affect long-term relationships.

The fishers have raised uncertainty around whether they’ll be allowed to fish within the sites once the offshore wind farms are constructed. Across  Europe, some fishing activities are prohibited within offshore wind sites. However, in the UK, there is no legislation to prevent fishing from resuming and there is some level of fishing activity within the majority of offshore wind farm sites across the UK. The Seafood ORE working group has had conversations with the Marine Survey Office (MSO) and it looks as though fishing will be able to continue legally during the operational phase in Ireland.

We’re building a new industry from scratch together. So we want to bring in best practices and learnings from other markets. I work a lot with Wind Energy Ireland and Seafood ORE to bring all the developers of Ireland’s projects together, so that we work with fishers in a cohesive and collective way, and are consistent in our approach.

Q. What are some of the initiatives Codling Wind Park has developed to support local fishers?

A. The biggest concern for a lot of local fishers is that the whelk population could be impacted post-construction. This hasn’t happened on any other offshore wind farm projects I’ve worked on, but regardless, we’re committed to undertaking a pre- and post-construction monitoring programme for whelk.

At the start of May 2023, we announced a dedicated €500,000 Fisheries Fund to provide financial support for fishing initiatives. The fund will pay out €100,000 a year, for five years, and it’s up to the local fishers to decide how we spend this money. It might be on improving local port facilities – improving the quality of their catch with refrigeration trucks, for instance. Or investigating the feasibility of electrifying their fishing boats to reduce running costs. It’s up to them to decide. I’ve worked on similar initiatives in other countries, and initiatives like this can help the local fishing industry continue to thrive.

One thing we’ve made clear to the local fishers is that the Fisheries Fund is not a replacement for any evidence-based compensation payments required during the construction phase of the wind farm. It’s additional funding and it’s specific to their industry too.

It’s also separate to the Community Benefit Fund linked to the wind farm. The Community Benefit Fund will share the benefits of the project with the wider community.  The community benefit fund rulebook includes a specific reference to the fishing community but will not be established until construction is underway. This is where the Fisheries Fund will help, as it provides a dedicated source of funding that’s specific to fishers, and they get to decide what initiatives it funds.

The other announcement we made in May 2023 was the launch of a Sustainable Fishers Charter. It’s another industry first for Ireland, as we’re laying out in a code of practice how we’ll engage with fishers and also support marine life on the Codling Bank. It commits us to a range of sustainable development practices and boosting marine diversity in the area around the proposed wind farm.

Personally, I’m also really interested in how nature-inclusive design can be used by the project to increase biodiversity. This feature is becoming a requirement in the UK for project applications, but it’s not in Ireland yet.

For instance, we’re looking at the feasibility of establishing a lobster hatchery as part of the construction of the wind farm. Although Codling Bank is a sandbank, with the development of the project we will be introducing hard substrate during the build, which lobsters like. If, following the feasibility study, it is considered viable, this would increase fishing opportunities in the area and potentially create a new source of income for local fishers. It’s entirely separate to the Fisheries Fund and it’s only a proposal at the moment, while we consult with local fishers to get their thoughts.

Working in renewables

Q. What’s been your career path to Codling?

A. I studied marine biology at Swansea University, then carried out a Masters research project in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. I went out on fishing boats every week and monitored the whelk population, so it’s actually turned out to be very useful for this project!

After my Masters, I worked for a fisheries consultancy doing offshore surveys and writing environmental impact assessments for offshore wind, oil and gas, and interconnector cables. I then moved to Orsted and managed their fisheries strategy across their portfolio, while sitting on lots of industry forums, before joining Codling Wind Park earlier this year.

Q. Do you enjoy your job?

A. I studied marine biology, so I like being on, in or by the water! The ocean is my happy place. But I also love building relationships; I like meeting different people, understanding their perspectives and working together to find a positive outcome for everyone.

I also believe passionately that working in offshore wind is contributing to a more sustainable world. I love the ocean and I believe the development of offshore wind will facilitate the protection of that. We need an environment where renewable energy, marine biodiversity and sustainable fisheries are able to coexist and thrive doing so.

Q. What are you most proud of achieving in your career so far?

A. It’s definitely when I’ve turned around relationships between fishers and offshore wind developers. It’s really rewarding when both parties have that realisation that we can make the relationship work and build a long-term future together.

I’d also say that it feels good to be setting an example as a young female working in offshore wind andfishing, both of which are male-dominated industries. I hope I’m demonstrating to other females that we have a place in these industries too.

Q. Would you recommend a career in renewables to a young person?

A. Yes, without a doubt. It’s such a diverse industry; you don’t have to have a particular skillset or even a degree, necessarily. There are alternative routes into the industry – like internships and apprenticeships – so you don’t have to feel any pressure to follow a certain track if it doesn’t suit you.

What worked well for me at university was doing a sandwich year in industry. It wasn’t a standard feature of my course – I had to sort it out myself – but it helped me to get a job afterwards as I had some experience. It doesn’t have to be a full year of work; you could work in a developer’s office one day a week when you don’t have lectures. Or go on a field study. It gives you experience, which is what most employers want, but which can also be hard to get.

Meet Courtney’s colleague, Erlend Christiansen, our Offshore Licensing Manager.

Read more on how we work with local fishers in our Fishers Charter. Or if you’re interested in working on the project, take a look at our jobs page.

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