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Offshore wind turbines will attract killer starfish, warn oyster fishermen

Oyster fishermen supplying top Michelin-starred restaurants have warned that plans to extend a wind farm will attract thousands of starfish – which prey on the expensive shellfish.

The fishermen are furious that plans are being considered to increase the number of turbines from 30 to 47 at the Kentish Flats offshore wind farm, just six miles off the coast of Whitstable, Kent.

They say that starfish flocked to the area in 2005 when workmen laid cables for the 30 existing turbines, and that the construction of a further 17 would see them ‘swamped with starfish’.

Starfish are attracted to areas when there is disturbance on the seabed – meaning there is more food available for them.

And as oysters are a favourite food for starfish, fishermen in Whitstable, Kent – which is the closest coastal town to the turbines – say they are worried their catch will be destroyed.

Whitstable is the country’s foremost provider of oysters – which are used in top restaurants around the UK.

Fisherman Graham West, of West Whelks – which was set up in 1947 and provides oysters, lobsters, whelks and clams to top eateries – accused the owners of the wind farm, Vattenfall, of ignoring the concerns of local fishermen.

He said this week: “Studies show how wind farms attract starfish that eat oysters and if that happens they will wipe out most of the oyster population here and ruin our tourist industry.

“Vattenfall should have come to the fishermen of Whitstable and asked us what the least damaging place for the wind farm is.”

He added: “I supply native oysters to 14 Michelin-starred restaurants every week. What will happen to my livelihood if I can no longer do that?

“We need to hear more about the potential problem with starfish.

“It could wipe out our native industry and destroy Whitstable tourism in one hit.”

Another fisherman, who did not want to be named, said: “Starfish have always been considered a pest by oyster fishermen.

“Whenever the seabed is disturbed the number of starfish increases dramatically as they come looking for food.

“If permission is granted for another 17 turbines that will mean a lot more disturbance and so a lot more starfish, which in the end could put us all out of business.”

Bosses at Vattenfall – which is currently in the middle of a public consultation about adding between 10 and 17 new turbines to the existing 30 – however, dispute the claims.

Project manager Dr Goran Loman said: “We have held five meetings with fishing interests since November last year.

“We have agreed in principle that we will pay compensation to fishermen for any economic loss during wind farm and cable installation.”

He said that he did not believe the wind farm had ’caused an increase in the number of starfish’, but pledged to ‘monitor the situation’.

He added: “What the science agrees on is that, when there is disturbance to the seabed, there can be an increase in food for starfish and this can lead to an increase in the local population.

“We have not been involved in any activity that would disturb the seabed in any significant way since 2005, when the existing wind farm was installed.”

Starfish eat oysters by wrapping themselves around the shellfish and forcing it open before devouring the meat inside.

If permission is given to build 17 new turbines the site would provide enough electricity to power around 96,000 UK households.