A fishing community says it has been bullied off fishing grounds by the multi-national energy company behind a wind farm off the Norfolk coast.
North Norfolk fishermen say they are fearful for their future, after Ørsted, the Danish energy giant behind Hornsea Project Three took out a High Court injunction to prevent them from temporarily fishing in certain areas while it carried out surveys.
The energy giant says it has always aimed to “work collaboratively with fishermen” held numerous discussions with the fishing community and legal action was a “last resort.”
In late 2020, Ørsted was given the government go-ahead to build Hornsea Project Three, one of the world’s biggest wind farms, off the North Norfolk coast.
In November 2020, Ørsted had been in contact with the North Norfolk fishing community to discuss carrying out geophysical and geotechnical surveys of the area from April 22 to May 2, and then again from May 13 to June 17.
The surveys are necessary to help the energy company establish the condition of the seabed, the environmental conditions and to make sure there are no unexploded ordnance.
The nature of the work means that while they are being carried out all fishing activity in the area needs to be suspended and fishing gear, such as pots, removed from the seabed.
The North Norfolk fishing community were not surprised by Ørsted’s request for them to vacate certain areas while it carried out the surveys, as it has had “many dealings” with energy companies over the years.
But contrary to past practices when fishermen had been compensated as a group, the community says Ørsted wanted to compensate only those fishermen who fished in the survey area and individually, based on their annual average income, drawn from three years’ worth of information.
The energy company said its evidence-based approach was in line with industry best practice and understood to be the fairest way to compensate fishermen economically impacted by any work relating to the wind farm.
Nicola Webster, secretary for the North Norfolk Fishermen’s Society (NNFS) said fishermen were “very uncomfortable” about disclosing their earnings.
She said: “We are a fishing community, strong and tight-knit. If one must move, every other fisherman is affected. Which is why, in the past, we were paid as a group and were amiable to wind farm requests, knowing that everybody was in the same boat.”
Mrs Webster said Ørsted “didn’t seem to understand” fishermen’s concerns and said the surveys were coming during prime fishing time when demand for catches was at its highest and sea conditions their most favourable and when the community was trying to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “In the long term, fishermen could see a reduction in catch but an increase in effort and therefore time at sea, potentially leading to more fatalities which would be devastating on such a small, tight-knit and passionate community.”
Mrs Webster said: “It’s not about the money, it’s about being bullied off grounds that we have worked on for X number of years. It’s about the impact, you can be potting by somebody but you might still lose business. That’s part of the problem, that Ørsted doesn’t seem to understand. We tried to explain it to them.”
She said the NNFS’s dealings with Ørsted had felt like “bullying” especially when as the date the surveys were due to take place neared, the Danish company threatened legal action if no agreement was met.
She said: “[It] felt like bullying, they have got a lot more money than the fisherman.
“We expected [Ørsted to be successful] it was always going to go that way, if you’re bigger and better you’re probably going to win.“
John Davies, chairman of the NNFS, who had been involved in talks with Ørsted on behalf of the society said: “We’re just pushed and sidelined out the way by the big multinational company. Just as things are looking up and demand is growing we’re getting forced off crabbing lands.”
Commenting on the way Ørsted had approached compensating fishermen for the disruption, he said: “They are coming in prime time but they want to pay you a yearly average.”
On March 28, Mr Davies, sent a letter to the Danish company on behalf of the NNFS and in response to its threat of a High Court Injunction preventing fishing in the designated survey area.
The letter highlighted the difficulties the society had found to carry out a full consultation of its members under coronavirus restrictions and accused Ørsted of “using seemingly ‘big boy bullying tactics’ rather than “enter into any reasonable negotiations to try and resolve this matter in a fair and amicable way.”
It said: “With the threat of legal action and financial penalties, you have left us with no alternative option but to vacate the affected area from 18th April to 2nd May 2021. Our members have expressed their anger and disappointment that you are once again using seemingly bullying methods with little or no opportunity to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement.
“I can confirm however that the members that I have been able to contact, which is the majority of members in our Society, have agreed, under duress from you, to remove their fishing gear from the survey area, during the dates demanded, due to your threat of financial penalties being imposed.”
Ørsted said it had made a number of efforts to find out whose fishing would be affected by the survey areas and equal efforts to contact them directly, reaching agreements with some.
On April 19, Ørsted successfully won a High Court injunction to have all fishing gear removed from the survey area and preventing people from fishing in the locations during the designated periods.
Mr Davies said: “I did not accept the money because of all the hassle to get it.
“Why should I have to bend to whatever they want to do. I’m a fisherman that’s fished that land for years and I’m not selling out to anybody and that’s how the majority of how the NNFS community feel.”
“I think it’s disgusting but we haven’t got the money to fight them. The only hope we have got is the press and the public support.
“I know we have lost this battle but they will be back to put cables in, what will happen then?”
In response to the fishermen’s claims, a spokesperson for Hornsea Project Three said it had always been its “aim to work collaboratively with fishermen and other users of the sea.”
They extended their thanks to “the many fishermen” who engaged with the company to “constructively to reach fair, evidence-based agreements and enable our surveys for Hornsea Three to proceed safely.”
They said: “We have successfully agreed arrangements with those fishermen that have shown they are economically dependent on the survey area – using a range of verifiable sources to allow us to make fair payments – and the majority of fishing gear was moved from the area.
“Unfortunately, a small amount of fishing gear was observed in the survey area which was unmarked and despite our efforts, the owner unidentifiable.
“Therefore, in order to safely conduct the survey work and only as a last resort, we were left with no choice but to secure the right to remove this gear.”
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