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Killer starfish are destroying Whitstable oyster beds, claim fishermen

Fishermen say killer starfish lured by a wind farm extension will destroy one of Britain’s last oyster beds.

Graham West, whose West Whelks firm in Whitstable, Kent, is a major supplier of native oysters, has accused wind farm giants Vattenfall of ignoring local fishermen.

Boat crews who rely on oysters and other shellfish for a living say starfish are attracted to the warm water created by heat from underground cabling running to the offshore wind farms.

The on-going controversy will be watched by fishermen and nature lovers in other parts of Britain where more off-shore wind farms are proposed with the Government’s backing.

Whitstable fishermen say their livelihoods are being sacrificed simply to please the wind farm companies and their supporters.

The starfish feast on such shellfish as oysters and will thrive on the proposed wind farm extension, said Mr West.

“Vattenfall are trying to slip their planned extension through the back door. They are talking to Thanet fishermen but not us.

“Studies show how how wind farms attract starfish that eat oysters. They will wipe out most of the oyster population here and ruin our tourist industry.”

As well as supplying the restaurant trade, the fishermen also put oysters and other shellfish up for sale along the harbour front at Whitstable and they are a famous attraction for visitors.

Vattenfall has begun a public consultation about its plans to add 17 turbines to the 30 already on the Kentish Flats offshore wind farm.

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

“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. If the research is wrong, fine. But if it is correct it could wipe out our native industry and destroy Whitstable tourism in one hit.”

Oyster fisherman Andy Riches said “I have seen evidence of the way starfish cloak themselves around shellfish and eat them out of their shells.”

Vattenfall project manager Dr Goran Loman said “We have been fulfilling our commitment to engage effectively with fishermen in the area.

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

“We have monitored the environmental effects of the existing wind farm and the proposal to extend it. Our extensive investigations suggest the wind farm and the export cable have not caused an increase in the number of starfish in the area or along the cable since installation in 2005.

“But we will continue to monitor the situation. 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.”