Concern is growing over plans to continue dredging hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand and gravel from the seabed off the East Coast at the same time new offshore wind farms are being built.
Shellfishermen are worried about the impact of dredging on stocks along with the construction of wind farms and a gas pipeline which are putting a squeeze on the areas they can fish.
Among several operators dredging off the Humber, Cemex UK wants to extract 625,000 tonnes from an area it has been dredging since 1967 while further south off Mablethorpe, on the Lincolnshire coast, Tarmac Marine Dredging has applied to remove 375,000 tonnes, both over a 27-month period.
Cemex has already taken out 14m tonnes from “area 102”, which is adjacent to five other active dredge areas, and will be bounded on one side by the new Humber Gateway wind farm and overlap a proposed marine conservation zone to the north. It says the noise of installing the turbines along with dredging “may result in a small in-combination effect” but claims “such impacts are … low risk.”
Steve Cowan, chair of Bridlington and Flamborough Fishing Society, said: “They keep saying there’s no detrimental effect, but you can’t keep taking it out. Down there is ideal spawning ground. The dredgers suck up anything in their way – juvenile lobsters, fish and crabs – and spit it out and it is going to be dead. The (Cemex) area is just one small area, if you look at the charts and see the overall area it is phenomenal. But the Government are getting so much a tonne and they are not going to knock it on the head.”
Mike Cohen, CEO of Holderness Fishing Industry Group, said: “A major concern is the increasing restrictions on areas where it is viable to fish. Ours is a small boat fishery with local boats with small crews going off their own doorstep. That money is all going into the East Yorkshire economy and it is not to be sniffed at. We would argue this was making money in a sustainable way.”
The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed, makes royalties off every tonne dredged – £15.5m in the financial year to March 2011 – and the Government charges 20 per cent VAT. Some of the aggregates goes to the east of England and the Thames for use in construction, some is exported to Belgium and the Netherlands.
In its application Cemex says it is constrained from looking elsewhere “by planning, environmental and logistical issues”, adding “as such continued extraction is considered a valid option in terms of its social and economic sustainability”.
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