Fishermen fear for the future

Joseph Bulmer

North Devon fishermen say their livelihoods are at threat because of offshore wind farm proposal

NORTH Devon fishermen fear their industry “hangs in the balance” because of plans to build a giant offshore wind farm 8.7 miles off the North Devon coast.

They say that “hundreds” of jobs could be lost if proposals to build the Atlantic Array on “prime” fishing grounds in the Bristol Channel are given the go-ahead.

Bob Gotts, chairman of the North Devon Fishermen’s Association (NDFA), said many of its members fished for whitefish and shellfish in the area developer RWE npower renewables had leased from Crown Estates for the next 50 years.

“An industry which has been here for generations is on the verge of disappearing for ever,” said Mr Gotts.

“Hundreds of jobs involved with our local fishing industry, both directly and indirectly will go if this wind farm goes ahead on these grounds.”

Mr Gotts said the NDFA was well recognised and respected throughout the fishing industry both in the UK and Europe. He said that despite the current economic climate, the industry in North Devon, Cornwall and South Wales was doing “very well”.

“Our members have invested millions of pounds in new vessels, upgrading existing vessels and equipment,” he told the Gazette.

“Our processors have also spent millions of pounds in their businesses, which up until recently were looking very good, despite the huge burdens of regulations and controls.

“If this was not enough, our members now face the reality of losing their best fishing grounds to an offshore power station.”

Mr Gotts said the NDFA was not against the wind farm, but against its siting.

“We say put it anywhere in the Bristol Channel but not on our prime fishing grounds,” he said. Mr Gotts said shellfish income from the proposed wind farm area was well over �1.5million a year, while whitefish income topped �3m.

“The whitefish landings for the early part of this year are over 30 per cent up on last year and the four main fish processors who buy from us have a combined turnover of over �50 million a year,” he said.

“As with many businesses our processors work on a very tight profit margin of around 10 per cent, so if 10 per cent of their income is derived from these fishing grounds, then their businesses will fold.”

Mr Gotts said the NDFA are committed to sustainable fishing and conservation and that members voluntarily did not fish an area of approximately 300sq km north of Lundy between December and May, to allow stocks of juvenile ray to recover and spawning to take place.

He also said members were instrumental in putting the Lundy Marine Reserve in place originally, which led – over a number of years – to the island becoming a Marine Conservation Zone.

“No politicians, no so-called boffins, just hard working fishermen who understand more than anyone else about conservation and the marine environment because its their life blood and until recently their future which now hangs in the balance.”

Robert Thornhill, Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm project manager, said RWE npower had undertaken early consultation with the fishing industry and that “mitigation strategies” would be agreed with fishermen if studies showed the wind farm to have an adverse impact on their livelihoods.

He said: “As responsible developers, it is very important to us that the project is developed in a sensitive way, taking into account other users of the sea.

“We have contracted two Fisheries Liaison Officers (FLO’s), one in North Devon and one in South Wales, to disseminate information on offshore surveys to the local fleets.

“We will apply the industry ‘best practice’ in its consultation with fishermen. If, subsequent to an exhaustive assessment of the impacts, it is concluded that there will be an adverse impact on the incomes of local fishermen then we will look at mitigation strategies, in consultation with Fishermen’s Associations, and to be agreed with local fishermen.”