Published: 25 September 2023 Updated: 27 September 2023
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DATE 26 Sep 2023

Sharing experiences, opportunities and challenges around offshore renewable energy in Scotland was the focus of Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Chief Executive Officer Elspeth Macdonald, on her FRDC-supported tour of Australia.

By Dempsey Ward


This exchange of knowledge between Elspeth and Australian fishing and aquaculture sectors and research organisations will help guide future FRDC-funded research, including the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) study into the effects of offshore renewable energy developments on the commercial fishing sector. 

The SFF covers eight geographical/sectoral constituent associations representing around 450 vessels from inshore creel (pot) boats to pelagic trawlers. Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) members fish for demersal, and pelagic fish as well as shellfish.   

Elspeth understands the reality of what commercial fishing entails having grown up in a coastal community on the Isle of Mull, where there was an active inshore fishing fleet.   

“It always gave a me a clear appreciation that fishing isn’t like other jobs - you have to be very passionate about fishing and be a pretty resilient person to do well in the industry.”  

On her trip to Australia Elspeth provided a keynote presentation at the Trans-Tasman Rock Lobster Conference in Adelaide. She presented her experience and learnings on spatial squeeze on Scottish fisheries, providing insights on how Australia can navigate equal sharing of the marine space in ways that protect and support fishing.  

“My big takeaway [for delegates] was the necessity of early and genuine dialogue with the [various] sectors, and the importance of building these relationships through meaningful engagement. Back in Scotland the SFF has been trying to get regulators and decision makers to understand it’s not just about ticking boxes - they need to understand the complications and disruptions offshore renewable energy developments bring for fishing.”  

“I also highlighted the importance of having good data and evidence for the fishing industry. If you want to prove the cumulative effects that other developments will have for fishing, you need to demonstrate it to the regulators and other sectors.”  

“Everybody wants everything - but Australia’s decision makers still need to implement policies that support, protect and sustain the seafood sector.”  


Photo of Elspeth Macdonald presenting


Elspeth says she also learnt to appreciate Australia’s navigation and expertise in the fisheries space, including understanding the different roles state and national governments take.  

“Scotland is a lot smaller than Australia - so attending the Trans-Tasman Rock Lobster Conference gave me the chance to see and learn from a blend of different speakers and topics. It was very special.” 

Elspeth also travelled west during her stay to attend a national meeting organised by Seafood Industry Australia, along with spending time in Western Australia hosted by WAFIC.  

“I spoke quite a lot [to WAFIC] about our experience with multiple offshore activities and the challenges. It has been very difficult work for us over the last 10 years, and the scale of further planned expansion is huge. I was able to accompany WAFIC in several meetings with the WA Minister, regulators and officials, and my visit generated good media interest,” 


Photo of Elspeth Macdonald (right) with WAFIC’s Chief Executive Officer Darryl Hockey (left)

Elspeth Macdonald (right) travelled west to visit WAFIC and got the chance to speak to Channel 7News, along with WAFIC’s Chief Executive Officer Darryl Hockey (left). 


“So many of the conversations that I had at WAFIC, the national meeting and the conference allowed me to see that Australia and Scotland’s commercial fishing sector had more commonalities than differences.” 

Words turn to action  

Listening to International experiences such as Elspeth’s is part of the evidence-based process that WAFIC is using for FRDC-funded project 2022-104, which is looking to identify the impacts of offshore wind farms before they are implemented.  

WAFIC’s Chief Executive Officer, Darryl Hockey said Western Australia’s commercial fishing industry would benefit greatly from the project outcomes.  

“Developing a framework informed by international experience will help ensure that the fishing sector can take an educated position on marine spatial planning, particularly in relation to the emerging offshore renewable energy sector.” 

The project will also guide the development of a co-existence framework for how new and existing sectors can work collaboratively to help protect and improve both sectors for community benefit. It is envisaged this framework could be adopted at a state or national level for future renewable energy projects or other coastal developments that could impact aquatic resources.  

“This project, along with Elspeth’s visit, is a great opportunity to ensure Western Australia’s local seafood supply chain remains a key industry in coastal communities,” 

This project involves Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, with funding provided by FRDC.  

FRDC Projects 

  • 2022-104: Review and quantify the cumulative effects of expanding industrial coastal developments and emerging offshore renewable energy on the fishing industry in WA  
  • 2022-201: International Travel Bursary – Elspeth MacDonald's (Scottish Fishermen’s Federation) experience with spatial management and the renewable energy sector