Norfolk crab fishermen are being forced out of an area that has been fished for hundreds of years, after an energy company took them to court to make way for work on a giant offshore wind farm.
Dong Energy, which is majority-owned by the Danish Government, secured an injunction on Monday giving the fisherman until one minute past midnight on Friday to remove thousands of crab-fishing pots from the area, in The Wash about 17 miles off the North Norfolk coast.
The company is preparing to carry out a seismic survey of the seabed ahead of deciding whether to build the Race Bank project, a 91-turbine offshore wind farm covering an area of 29 square miles.
So far 20 out of 24 fishing vessels operating in the affected area have refused offers of compensation made by the company, claiming they are inadequate to cover their lost catch from having to move to a less crab-rich area for a period of up to 90 days at peak fishing season.
But Benj Sykes, head of Dong’s UK wind power business, said the offer was “generous” and covered its best estimate of the costs of lost catch, of moving the crab pots elsewhere and an extra payment to compensate for the disturbance.
He said the company had been talking to the fishermen since April but the fishermen had not provided detailed information about their typical catch.
Fishermen suggested the offer was in the region of £220 a day, or almost £20,000 over the period.
Nicky King, chairman of the Wells and District Inshore Fisherman’s Association, said: “All we are asking for is a fair settlement. Their negotiating style stinks.”
He said that bad weather had prevented the fishermen removing the crab pots so far and there would now be insufficient time to move them before the deadline. The injunction suggests the deadline may be extended in such circumstances but the fisherman say they are worried about the legal repercussions.
If the wind farm goes ahead the fishermen will face being excluded from the area for an 18-month period while the turbines are installed, and fear their activities in the area will be harmed permanently.
Mr King said: “They have taken one of the best fishing areas away from us and it will have a big impact on fishermen all over the north Norfolk coast. They are taking the subsidies that we pay as British consumers and tax payers and preventing us from doing the work we’ve done for hundreds of years.”
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), accused Dong of “bullying” and said it was almost unprecedented for an offshore developer to resort to court action. “Fishermen have a legitimate right to fish on their customary grounds and using a high court injunction to force them out of the way seems like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” he said.
He suggested Dong had “ left insufficient time to reach agreement with local fishermen”.
A spokesman for the company said going to court was “very much a last resort” and that it would continue discussions about compensation but had to carry out the seabed survey “on schedule to comply with the terms of our agreement for lease with The Crown Estate, who control access to the seabed”.
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