Dutch fishermen to sail fleet into Amsterdam in wind turbine protest

The Netherlands may be the land of the windmill, but fishermen are planning a major protest on Saturday against the Dutch government’s latest wind turbine construction in the North Sea, with an armada of fishing boats sailing into Amsterdam.

After alighting from at least 15 boats at the back of Amsterdam’s central station, it is understood that hundreds of fishermen will march to the capital’s Damrak canal, where they will upend bags of small fish deemed too small for sale by the EU, and cover them with red dye.

Fishing community leaders say they are being crowded out of their waters and that the towering turbines damage fish stocks and deafen and displace the local porpoise populations.

Wind turbines at Grevelingen in the Netherlands. Photograph: Judith Jockel for the Guardian

The Dutch government has announced plans to build three more windfarms off the Noord-Holland coast and north of the Wadden Islands, in addition to five new windfarms already agreed upon, at a cost of €20 billion (£17.5bn).

It is claimed by local fishermen that 25% of Dutch fishing waters will be covered with turbines by 2025 and made out of bounds for larger fishing vessels.

A Dutch energy network is additionally drawing up plans for an island of wind turbines on Dogger bank, a patch of shallow fishing waters 78 miles off the east Yorkshire coast frequented by Dutch, Danish and UK fishermen.

Ministers are fighting off accusations they are rushing to develop wind technology without examining the consequences on the ecology of the shallow waters being targeted.

A major factor driving the ambitious round of turbine construction is the need to end extraction of gas from the Groningen fields, due to the increased strength of earthquakes in the area.

Saturday’s protest is being organised by the Eendracht Maakt Kracht (Unity Brings Strength) action group, which was formed two years ago by fishermen who were unhappy with the level of activity from the two main unions.

Job Schot, the chairman of the EMK group, said: “Dutch, German and British turbines are pushing us out of the southern part of the North Sea. About half a per cent of our fishing waters are covered by turbines at the moment, but it will be 25% within a decade, and in our prime fishing grounds. The government know where we fish.

“They claim that the area around the windfarms creates some kind of paradise of biodiversity. It is exactly the opposite. The acoustic sound from the turbines discourages fish and if it carries on long enough they just don’t come back. There are lots of oysters and mussels around the turbines, but not fish. It’s a dead area.

“The ramming of seabed kills everything within 6km. The porpoises are deafened and once they lose their hearing, they die. There has not been enough research, but we see what is happening every day.”

Job Schot showing fish at the Stellendam fish auction in the Netherlands. Photograph: Judith Jockel for the Guardian

The scientific consensus is that the use of pile drivers to pound holes into the seabed, the acoustic noise of the operating turbines and the electromagnetic fields around the transmission cables do have an impact on sea life, although findings are mixed in terms of the scale of the damage.

Recent research sponsored by NoordzeeWind, a joint venture of Nuon and Shell Wind Energy, stated that offshore windfarms could have a beneficial long-term effect on wildlife, with new species being attracted to the turbine foundations and surrounding rocks.

Jaap Tanis, 59, a third-generation fisherman, who owns two fishing boats running out of the harbour at Stellendam, said: “We are being squeezed out of the seas. The area we can work in is getting smaller and smaller. This harbour had 45 boats working out of it 20 years ago. It is eight or nine today. We can all see what happens to the fish when the turbines are put up.”

The planned protest illustrates the frustration of the Dutch fishing industry, which has been buffeted by unwelcome developments in recent years.

From the imposition of the EU’s landing obligation, which obliges fishermen to count undersized, unsellable fish as part of their quota and keep them for destruction, to the anxiety prompted by Brexit, which threatens to curtail access to UK waters, the industry feels under attack, said protest organisers.

Schot added: “Brexit, the landing obligations and the windfarms are three big worries. Fishermen aren’t being heard, and the EMK was formed to give us a voice, and a bit of pride.”

A government spokesman said they understood that “this is something that has implications on space for the fishing sector”. He added: “We are still having talks with the energy and fisheries sectors.”

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