Located off China’s south-east coast, for generations Nanri Island lured tourists keen to explore its rocky outcrops, white beaches, historic tombs and temples.

While for locals, fishing, seaweed and kelp production across the island’s mudflats brought income and food – mirroring, perhaps, life on some of Scotland’s own islands.

More recently, though, life on Nanri Island in Fujian Province has been dominated by towering wind energy turbines: more than 140 turbines have appeared since 2015, altering the landscape and helping to meet demand for ‘clean’ energy for Chinese consumers.

While further off the coast sits the National Marine Ranching Demonstration Zone.

There, in sea water 35m deep, three-column semi-submersible floating platforms have just achieved a world first – combining wind energy production and solar power with, in a hexagonal space within the platform’s central area, a fish farm.

Most read:

Bug life could hold the key to unlocking niggling EV battery problem

New film will reveal spellbinding story of post-punk's unsung guitar hero

Was climate change behind a national witch hunt frenzy?

Declared a success earlier this month, it is said to be the world’s first maritime renewable energy project of its kind, regarded as a major breakthrough in the race to harness the open ocean for sustainable food production and a potential solution to rising demand from a soaring global population.

Still to be ironed out is which breeds of fish might fare best in its cages, the impact of turbine noise and how subsea fish cages might affect the performance of the turbines.

But it is just one of a range of similar projects being developed in Chinese waters: earlier this year Mingyang Smart Energy announced plans to deploy an “intelligent" fish farming system integrated with an offshore wind foundation, with remote functions such as automated feeding, monitoring, detection, and collection. It estimates up to 150,000 fish could be raised in 5,000 cubic meters of water.

It has also developed an offshore wind turbine foundation that features a net cage for fish farming.

Closer to home, the four year €8.2 million European Union backed OLAMUR project launched earlier this year. It involves 25 European partners exploring how wind farms can be used in aquaculture, with kelp and mussels farmed at three pilot sites including offshore wind farms in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

The race is clearly on to combine wind farms with food production.

And with Scotland’s significant presence in both sectors, could it soon be heading our way?

Last year’s the ScotWind offshore wind auction has opened the door to 17 wind farm projects across 14 sea areas around the Scottish coast.

In particular, off the east coast of Scotland, around a dozen projects are planned to be floating wind farms intended to play a key role in helping to decarbonise oil and gas platforms by powering them with renewable energy.

They include Muir Mhòr, planned for a spot approximately 63km off the coast of Peterhead. A joint venture between Fred. Olsen Seawind and Vattenfall, the project says it is aiming to deliver one of the world’s first “commercially-viable floating wind projects”.

It says it has already been consulting with local, national and regional fisheries associations and stakeholders over its impact on fishing grounds and vessel movements.

Meanwhile, Vattenfall has also been engaged elsewhere in exploring how to combine offshore wind turbines with food production: earlier this year it launched its ‘win@Sea’ initiative.

Working with Danish universities and seafood production companies, it has made Scandinavia’s largest offshore wind farm, Danish Kriegers Flak, available for an aquaculture project involving the production of blue mussels, sugar kelp, sea lettuce and dulse attached to lines at the offshore wind farm. 

There is no suggestion at this point that Muir Mhór Wind Farm – or others in the pipeline for Scottish waters – will incorporate the kind of fish farm arrangement as unveiled in Nanri Island.

The Herald: Mingyang Smart Energy is making an offshore wind turbine foundation that features a net cage for fish farming.Mingyang Smart Energy is making an offshore wind turbine foundation that features a net cage for fish farming. (Image: Mingyang Smart Energy)

However, David Hinshelwood, Project Director for Muir Mhór Wind Farm, confirmed the project is looking at how it can ‘add value’.

“Having worked with other developers and stakeholders representing fisheries and other marine users during our geophysical survey earlier this year, our ultimate ambition is to be a good neighbour and identify opportunities to add value when the project is delivered.

“This approach will continue as our project progresses.

“While it is too early to determine what added value the project could bring, we are assessing all options.”

He added that the project acknowledges “the importance of fisheries and maritime industries to the North East economy and communities.

The Herald: David Hinshelwood, Project Director for Muir Mhór Wind FarmDavid Hinshelwood, Project Director for Muir Mhór Wind Farm (Image: Contributed)

“We are committed to developing Muir Mhòr Offshore Wind Farm as a project that directly supports communities and the green economy in the North East of Scotland by creating job and training opportunities, enabling skills development, and actively contributing to the development of a world-class Scottish supply chain.”

The potential impact of combining wind farms and fish farms  - perhaps two of Scotland’s most divisive sectors in recent years - in a single project was recently explored by researchers from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Mediterreanea University of Reggio Calabria, Italy, which looked at how coastal communities in Italy and Islay viewed the idea of ‘Multifuctional Offshore Installations (MOIs).

It concluded there were concerns from both over the abilities of regulators to control environmental impacts and added: “Combining  these two technologies on board an MOI presents a unique social as well as technological challenge.”

All of which may well leave Scotland’s fishing community wondering what it means for them.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) has already expressed concerns over the number of wind farms set to appear in deep water.

Following last year’s Scotwind announcement it warned  “proper scrutiny” must be given to developers’ claims wind farms and fishing can co-exist with little change to existing patterns of activity.

Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the SFF, said: “Regardless of the type of technology deployed, offshore wind farms threaten to deprive Scottish fishermen of huge areas of their traditional fishing grounds.

“Indeed, a major report for the SFF and NFFO last year warned that more than half of Scottish waters could be closed to fleets by 2050 if the industry continues to be marginalised by the development of offshore renewables and the expansion of enhanced marine protected areas.


The Herald:

“No-one disputes the need for renewables to help in the battle against climate change, but the scale of development proposed offshore risks putting an already climate-smart industry to the sword.”

Should wind farms in deep sea waters eventually double up as fish and in particular, as salmon farm facilities, Don Staniford, Director of $camon $cotland, would be among those to have concerns.

“Salmon farming is an ill wind that blows nobody any good,” he says.

“Salmon farms - whether located on land, in freshwater or sea lochs or further offshore - are ecologically and ethically bankrupt. 

“Cramming the 'King of Fish' in cages is a welfare nightmare akin to farming golden eagles or albatrosses. 

“Salmon farms are already a noose around the neck of the Highlands and Islands so any further expansion via wind farms will be lethal.”

Others though, are more optimistic.

Heather Jones, CEO of the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) said: “Innovation is key to a more sustainable future across many different sectors, including both aquaculture and energy.

“Different sections of Scotland’s blue economy are already working together, for example, with Scottish company Tritonia Scientific exploring how subsea mapping can support both salmon producers and Scottish regulatory agencies in understanding the topography of the seabed.

“De-risking investment in new concepts that aren’t yet proven is supported by SAIC, through co-funding projects with industry to ensure robust testing and independent verification of technologies that could offer significant benefits to sustainable fish production.

“By continuing to support the trialling and testing of farming innovations, we can explore what is technically and financially feasible, seeking to drive improvements in fish performance whilst minimising environmental impacts.

“We’ll be interested to see the results of this offshore initiative in Shanghai and whether it sparks any further discussion closer to home between UK seaweed, shellfish and fish farmers and offshore wind developers.”