Opinion – North Sea

Opinion – North Sea

The North Sea industrial estate

In order to reduce CO2 emissions The Netherlands put a lot of money into an energy transition by building a vast windmill park at sea. Understandably, Dutch fishermen have serious concerns.

Their fear is that the North Sea will become an industrial estate while fishermen will lose fishing grounds and space.

Willem den Heijer

So far, many windmill parks have already been placed in locations that had been prime fishing grounds for beam trawlers, flyshooters and whitefish trawlers from fishing ports in the south-west of Holland. The Thornton Bank was a favourite fishing ground for beam trawlers from Arnemuiden and Goedereede.

Now they are only able to fish on the edge of an extensive windmill park. For the owners and the skippers of the beam trawlers from the south-west coast, it is difficult to maintain a positive outlook.

Plaice fishing has been poor for a couple of years. According to some biologists, plaice is moving to deeper locations and more to the north-west. They claim that the plaice stock is still very healthy with an estimated size of 1 million tonnes. For sole it’s much the same story.

The quota for sole (Solea solea) was increased by 40% this year with. Biologists concluded that a huge amount of juvenile sole will be joining the overall stock – all based on research last year.

Sole quotas for 2020 are significantly increased – but catching it is a challenge

But the Dutch beam trawl skippers have their doubts about these predictions. They hardly catch any sole. For the last three years, even when much of the fleet was using pulse gear, they have not able to catch what they were allowed. Now just 18 trawlers remain with pulse licenses, the remaining beamers try to make a living with old-fashioned beam trawl gear.

Because this demands much more fuel, they have higher expenses at the end of every trip. That means that they need to catch more than before – but fishing is still poor and it seems it will not get better.

As the windmill parks continue to expand, there’s less space available for the fishing fleet. Many years ago several rounds of decommissioning schemes were needed to strike a balance between fishing capacity and the size of the stocks.

Dirk Kraak's beamer Jade BRA-7

Now a new decommissioning scheme is about to be launched for skippers and owners who want to leave the industry because of a lack of space and alternatives.

Fishermen are bitter about the number of windmills in the North Sea.

‘They disturb the whole ecosystem and affecting fish stocks. Especially in the southern North Sea there is always a strong current and in between the piles and displacement is taking take place,’ said Dirk Kraak of 24m German-flagged beamer Jade BRA-7, who fishes from Den Helder.

‘That means flatfish will be covered with a new layer of sand every time while hiding in the sand as they wait to surprise prey. The first results of short investigations confirm that flatfish will disappear.’

Den Helder beamer skipper Dirk Kraak has no interest in retiring yet – he wants to continue fishing

He said that waters inside the 12-mile zone are showing less fish the last couple of years.

‘Not only sole, but also other flatfish. I think it is a combination of a lack of food and sand displacement. A lot of work inside the 12-miles zone is going on connected to beach replenishment, and a lot of aggregate dredging. That means that the seabed is be disturbed every time. Flatfish don’t like that. So they move somewhere quieter so we no longer fish in coastal waters. But outside it will get more difficult because of a lack of space,’ said Dirk Kraak, who doesn’t want to stop. He wants to continue fishing.

‘Meanwhile environmental organisations are demanding protected areas to compensate for the windmill parks. So again we will lose a lot more space.’