Offshore wind farms blow new energy into Kilkeel fishing fleet’s sails

An offshore wind farm
An offshore wind farm

A group of Kilkeel fishermen and business people has secured multi-million pound contracts to supply fishing boats and crews to help in the development of offshore wind and tidal energy projects.

Davey Hill, spokesman for the recently created Kilkeel Collaborative Network which represents fishermen and onshore service providers, says a number of marine services contracts ranging from half a million to over £2m are now in place with offshore energy developers.

Mr Hill said: “Kilkeel trawlers which find their fishing activities restricted have found new outlets and business opportunities through servicing the renewable development projects around the Irish Sea and beyond.”

Fourteen boats and their crews are now accredited to provide services to the offshore energy development companies who require a range of services including guard vessels, scientific seabed surveys, studies of submarine fauna and flora, shipping traffic data, wind speed surveys and other data. These are required to complete environmental impact assessments for planning applications.

Mr Hill added: “There are many opportunities for job creation in the sector.

“The boats and the expertise of those who work them are also in demand for servicing requirements of completed and operational wind farms and we are now contracted to work on sites between Arklow in the south all the way round the top of Scotland and into the North Sea.”

The Kilkeel Collaborative Network launched a blue print for the harbour shortly before Christmas in a bid to attract investment. Mr Hill said the document will help focus the business and policy communities on the existing and potential commercial opportunities being presented.

“The re-emergence of Kilkeel as an important economic hub has been helped by the strong performance of the fishing sector and development of offshore renewable energy projects all around the Irish Sea and indeed beyond,” says Mr Hill. “Thanks to both sectors, shipping traffic, marine business and demand for local expertise have created an upsurge in boat use and the knock-on effect has been to create a very busy harbour.”

“Kilkeel Collaborative Network represents all the businesses in the harbour and that includes fishermen, electricians, boat builders, plumbers, engineers and others who stand to gain from the new business opportunities presented by offshore energy developments as well as a strong fishing industry.”

The network is now aiming to build on its successes and to explore how best to use the resources, skills and knowledge provided by generations of fishing.

The County Down port which lost more than half of its trawler fleet through stringent fishing quotas and subsequent reduced catches in the last three decades is enjoying a reversal of fortunes in the fishing sector too.

Recently released figures by Kilkeel based Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO) indicate that the port now dominates the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea landing 3,500 tonnes of langoustine prawns, more than half of the UK’s annual catch from the entire area.

Herring is also significant to Kilkeel’s activity with more than 5,000 tonnes landed each year from the Irish Sea by the port’s trawlers.

Alan McCulla, chief executive of ANIFPO, says some of the fishing fleet of 60 boats is diversifying and adapting in order to qualify for the surveying and servicing work required by offshore energy wind farm and tidal generator developers. In addition the organisation is working with trawlers from Co. Down’s other fishing harbours (Ardglass and Portavogie) to help them become accredited to expand the pool of suitably qualified fishing vessels.

He said: “The fishing community of Kilkeel has always maintained belief in its sector and the investment, modifications and developments made in order to maximise our share of the langoustine and herring sectors as well as the offshore renewables are now paying of.”

The tension between energy and fishing interests has been resolved in other coastal areas of the UK, Mr McCulla added that compromises will have to be reached if the prawn fishing grounds off Kilkeel and the herring grounds further out are to be maintained.

“Now we face a new challenge which is to make as full a contribution to the development of offshore energy projects while maintaining and protecting our fishing sites” he said.