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Fishermen’s fears over wind farm off County Down coast

Fishermen have deep reservations about a major wind farm that aims to deliver up to 20% of Northern Ireland’s power.

A consortium, First Flight Wind, is behind the project that could see up to 100 turbines constructed off the south-east coast of County Down.

But a fishing organisation said the area is “one of the most intensely fished grounds” in the British Isles, particularly for prawns.

The development still has to secure planning consent and other approvals.

Alan McCulla, of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation, said: “We are in dialogue with government and if we have to move lines on a map we will identify other areas where this can go for the benefit of Northern Ireland and the industry.”

In 2011, the Crown Estate, which owns the UK sea bed, identified the zone, and a year later First Flight Wind was selected to operate the project within its boundaries.

If they secure the relevant approvals the farm would be operational by 2020, cutting Northern Ireland’s dependence on imported fuel to run its power stations.

It would also help Stormont meet renewable energy targets.

The turbines would be visible from land, but would be at least five miles out to sea.

‘Sheer fear’

Preparatory work is under way, including dialogue with fishing communities in Kilkeel, County Down, and elsewhere.

Mr McCulla said fishermen are not against wind farms in principle, but claimed “fishing activity was totally ignored when this site was identified”.

He is worried by experiences around other off-shore wind farms in the UK, which he claims have changed fishing patterns.

“The question is why? Is it the sheer fear of fishermen having to navigate through a forest of wind turbines or do shell fish stocks not recover after construction activity?”

But staff at First Flight Wind hope they can accommodate the industry’s reservations.

“We recognise in certain circumstances like adverse weather it is more difficult to fish, potentially, within a wind farm,” said spokesman Michael Harper.

“It is very important to sit down with fishermen during this design phase so we can work out how best to design a project that meets their needs and locate it to avoid the areas of most significant fishing activity.”

Fishermen could receive compensation during the construction phase because an exclusion zone would be in place for safety purposes.