Claws are out as crab men fight back

THEY’VE been scraping a living along the East Coast for centuries – an ancient Enclosure Act mentions a parcel of land being set aside for them in Hornsea.

Year in, year out, shellfishermen have headed out to sea in small potters laying traps for crabs and lobsters. Hugging the shore they rarely venture out of the sight of land, preferring to be back home at night.

They have always had a far lower profile than trawlermen – to the point where even now some experts still aren’t aware the shell fishery even exists.

They weren’t consulted back in the 1980s about the outfall being built by British Gas at Atwick – and years later they have had scant attention as plans get underway for two new developments with massive implications for the future of their industry.

Petro-chemical companies are keen to exploit a geological feature known as the Zeckstein Salt Basin, which extends across central northern Europe, under the North Sea, and clips the East Coast close to Spurn Point.

Despite massive local opposition a public inquiry two years ago permitted British Gas Storage and Intergen to build nine huge underground gas caverns at Aldbrough, in rural Holderness.

For reasons local shellfishermen cannot fathom they weren’t consulted initially about the proposals and were incensed to discover that an environmental statement stated there was no local fishery and only horse mussels and brittle stars on the seabed. The consequences of an outfall pumping out hundreds of tonnes of saturated brine an hour, coupled with the abstraction of massive amount of seawater to carve out the caverns threatens the existence of the fishery, they say, as crabs and lobsters come into shallow water to spawn.

The fishermen are so fed up that they’ve formed the Withernsea and District Fishermen’s Association to represent the 60 people in the industry between Spurn and Bridlington.

Representing Hornsea members is Carl Suddaby, who runs a seafood business with his wife Linda, and has been a

shellfisherman for 10 years. Representing Withernsea is Steve Cooper, with more than 25 years’ experience.

The latest bone of contention is with another petro-chemical company – this time BP Amoco, whose pipeline from the West Sole field has become dangerously exposed. BP wants to dump hundreds of tonnes of rock on the pipeline to secure it – the fishermen, who only found out about the extent of the job at the last minute, want to protect their pots.

Frustration turned to anger last week and the fishermen picketed the Dimlington site at Easington – with remarkable effect. Contractors walked off the site in sympathy and two representatives of the company were flown down from Aberdeen for urgent talks with the fishermen.

Mr Suddaby said: “The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations was meant to be liaising with us, but we’ve had very little information. The NFFO refused to answer our calls. What was meant to be a one-day job now turns out to be 23 and involves an area as big as six playing fields but stretched into a line – and they said it wouldn’t have any effect on the fishery.

“We specifically target that pipe because there are lobsters there and those rocks will just crush them in their holes.”

He added: “No one consulted us about the new fishing compound at Hornsea, or the new sewer pipe, or the new seawall. Intergen is consulting us now, but only after we pulled them up. We had to take action to make BP sit up and listen. We want consultation not confrontation – and we want to be told the truth.

“The perception of most of the public is of big trawlers going out of the harbour, whereas most of us work off the beach in little boats. Although we don’t contribute much to the economic life of the region, we all employ another person and like to think we’re part of the coast’s heritage.

“The way things are going, however, we fear our days are numbered.’’

Dave Bevan, of the NFFO, said he wasn’t aware that the job was going to be as large as suggested by the fishermen, adding: “We liaised with those directly in the area of the pipeline but our own observations didn’t support the level of fishing activity that is being suggested.’’

Steve Dyer, the terminal manager at Easington, said they had halted work on the line as soon as they heard the fishermen’s objections. They would be having further talks with the fishermen.

He added: “We are in the business of trying to work with all our neighbours.’’