AAs the fishing boat gently sails out of Newlyn Harbour, the sky is clear and the sea is flat. Beneath the surface, the clear waters teem with life; Newlyn in south-west Cornwall is home to one of Britain’s largest trawler fleets, with over 100 boats regularly landing catch. However, miles offshore, a storm is brewing.
Boat fishing grounds could end up being squeezed by floating wind farms planned for the Celtic Sea, an area of the Atlantic bordered by Cornwall, South West Wales, southern Ireland and the northwest of France. In July, the Crown Estate – the Queen’s property manager and owner of the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland – announced that five sites in the Celtic Sea could host facilities offshore that could provide four gigawatts of wind power by 2035. Up to 300 turbines would power nearly 4 million homes and generate revenue for the crown and treasury.
An auction of other plots off England and Wales last year attracted unprecedented interest from energy companies, pushing bids to record highs, the Crown Estate set to receive up to £9billion over the next decade. These areas are set to house six new wind farms, generating enough electricity for 7 million homes, and could be a key step in the drive to decarbonize the UK electricity system.
The plans are causing a stir in Newlyn Harbor and sparking apprehension for Britain’s declining fishing industry.
In the cool halls of the city’s seafood market, anglers such as Chris Nowell, carrying a can of line-caught bass and pollock, arrive throughout the day with their silvery catch, which is valued, weighed and packed in ice. More than 50 species pass through the market, from megrim (also known as “Cornish sole”) and red gurnard to mackerel and ray. Worth around £20million a year, they are aimed at local dining tables and restaurants in the UK and overseas.
The man responsible for running the market is Paul Trebilcock, managing director of W Stevenson & Sons, whose fleet has been fishing in Newlyn for over 100 years. His main feeling about wind farm proposals is “apprehension”, he says from his market office.
In recent decades, fishermen have seen a proliferation of no-go areas, including marine protected areas, electrical wiring sites and oil and gas facilities. At a time when many remain bitter about the absence of the Brexit benefits they have been promised, fishermen say they face ‘space compression’, with more boats competing to fish in more areas. in smaller ones.
“When you layer these elements, it gets pretty scary,” says Trebilcock. “If you try to catch fish in the sea and the areas you go to get washed away one by one, it’s like death by a thousand cuts.”
Although Trebilcock and other Newlyn fishermen are at pains to stress that they are not opposed to offshore wind, they feel ‘bottom of the list’ in decisions about the use of UK waters.
Stevenson employs around 40 people onshore in Newlyn and another 50 offshore, but the warnings about the impact of the offshore wind are stark.
“Some of the search areas examined are sufficient for us to consider the viability of certain boats,” says Trebilcock. “The north coast of Cornwall is a valuable fishery for Dover sole and some areas surveyed would effectively take that out of the equation. The consequence could be catastrophic for our fleet.
Trebilcock’s fears are shared by 18.5m Ajax skipper and owner James Chown. He checks his nets and refuels with fuel and ice before heading back to sea.
The Ajax is one of Newlyn’s biggest boats, and Chown – ‘Chunky’ as the 50-year-old is known – and her five-man crew typically spend every other week at sea, hunting hake and pollock. As some trips take it more than 50 miles from shore, it is likely to be among the hardest hit by proposed wind farm sites.
Because they will be in deep water, the Celtic Sea turbines will rest on floating concrete and steel platforms anchored by cables to the seabed.
“The fishing industry normally adapts to whatever it has to do,” says Chown – tattoos of a sailing ship, the coat of arms of his hometown Padstow, and Cornish and English flags visible under the sleeves of his t-shirt. “But my concern is that you can only adapt if you have the ability to adapt.”
Added pressure on fishing grounds will lead to more displacement, crews say, with boats forced into areas regularly fished by others, whether British crews or boats from France, Belgium and Spain.
“We are certainly not anti-renewable,” says Chris Ranford, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, which represents boat owners. They just want to be recognized for their centuries-old role in powering the UK, as well as having a say in where offshore wind is located.
“We understand the priority,” Ranford added. “What we’re asking for is simply a coexistence strategy, where you recognize food security as much as energy security.”
Cornwall fishing crews are unhappy with what they see as a lack of early involvement in the process of identifying areas where drift wind could be located.
“We didn’t find that out until mid-July with the rest of the audience,” Ranford said. “We knew it was coming, but we had no idea where the sites were.”
The development may not stop there: the Crown Estate says its research shows the Celtic Sea has the potential for up to 20GW of additional offshore wind capacity by 2045.
Fishermen’s organizations complain that fishing is not considered a “hard constraint” when it comes to determining the location of wind farms. The Crown Estate disputes this, saying it is committed to working with stakeholders, including the fishing industry, to develop its proposals. He said he gave fishing data “the highest possible weight” when identifying “research areas” in the Celtic Sea, to avoid heavily fished areas.
Huub den Rooijen, Managing Director of the Navy at Crown Estate, says: “We fully recognize the importance and value of the Celtic Sea fishing industry, and have engaged throughout with key bodies such as the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations and the Welsh Fishermen’s Association. But the estate must ‘balance competing needs for space on the seabed’, he says, adding: ‘We will continue to engage with the fishing industry to better understand their business.
Domestic fishing accounts for less than 1% of the UK’s national economic output, but it is part of the lifeblood of small coastal communities from Cornwall to northern Scotland. Around 24,000 people work in fishing and processing, contributing £1.4billion a year to the economy, according to the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.
At the port, Will Treneer unloads a catch of deep blue lobsters, the claws tied with rubber bands. Born and raised in Newlyn, the 33-year-old followed his father and uncle into fishing as a teenager. Her own five-year-old son asks every morning how the overnight catch went.
“The offshore wind is coming whether we like it or not, and we should probably embrace it,” says Treneer. “But the fishing industry is going to be very different.”