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Fishermen are fighting for their future

Fleetwood’s last remaining fishermen have staged a stirring flotilla protest as they desperately fight to save their livelihoods.

Eight of the town’s remaining ten fishing boats were adorned with giant banners yesterday afternoon as they sought to highlight their struggle with windfarm company DONG Energy.

One banner proclaimed “Wind farms taking over fishing grounds”.

After a public meeting at The Mount Hotel in Fleetwood, the small inshore boats took to the water in a show of solidarity.

Fleetwood fisherman Will Bamber says the protest is over plans to extend an already large windfarm in the Irish Sea.

He says DONG Energy’s plans could force boats out of their fishing grounds for an entire year – the whole of 2017 – and kill off their livelihoods.

Mr Bamber, 33, spokesman for the Fleetwood Commercial Fishermen’s Group, said: “I might be wrong, but I think this could be the first official protest at sea by Fleetwood fishermen.

“We just want to get our message across that we cannot just accept the terms that DONG Energy are offering us.

“We want to get a better deal or fishing in Fleetwood will finally be finished forever.”

There are just 10 small fishing boats left in Fleetwood, nine of them inshore vessels.

Mr Bamber, skipper/owner of the vessel Mary Oakley, claims DONG Energy has offered the fishermen just £750 per boat to stay out of the waters for a whole year, as part of its construction plans for the Walney Extension off the coast of Cumbria.

DONG Energy argues only a small handful of up to 100 fishermen in the Irish Sea have a problem with the deal being offered – and the company argues there are other areas in which the men can fish while the work is carried out.

Fifth-generation fisherman Will Bamber, 33, added: “We felt we had to get our message across and staging a flotilla was the best way we could think of doing it.

“This extension to the farm means the company needs to construct cables under the sea bed leading to the turbines. They have told us they want us to stay out of the whole area during 2017. The problem is that this extension covers key fishing grounds. There’s nowhere else for us to go.”

Mr Bamber added that each fishing boat involved was putting together a log of evidence to present to DONG to prove that they could not fish anywhere else than the grounds which are threatened.

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, who was at the public meeting, said: “I am behind the fishermen. Their livelihoods are at stake and must be protected.”

Mr Bamber said the public meeting provd useful in getting the fishermen’s message across to Fleetwood residents.

A DONG Energy spokesman said: “In preparation for the offshore construction work on the Walney Extension wind farm off the coast of Cumbria, DONG Energy has held positive discussions with groups representing around 100 local fishermen. Where applicable, these talks cover appropriate disturbance payments for any loss of catch, or other cost, that can be demonstrated to result from the construction work.

“Unfortunately, we have so far not been able to come to a mutually acceptable arrangement with a small number of fishermen who have rejected the terms offered. The construction work will not affect their entire fishing area. It will simply require them to keep a safe distance from a narrow strip of sea while survey and construction work for the export cable of the wind farm takes place.”

DONG says it hopes to reach an amicable evidenced based settlement with the group in the near future.