Belfast Telegraph

Kilkeel harbour chiefs cast nets on fresh trade

Harbour leaders pool resources to boost historic fishing town

Clare Weir

IT'S a hidden gem sandwiched between the Mournes and the sea and now a team of fishermen, tradespeople and engineers are coming together to put Kilkeel back on the map.

The village revolves around fishing and while the industry has changed in recent years and has been hit by a series of crippling European reforms, a visionary group of business leaders have vowed to keep the craft at the very centre of exciting new regeneration plans – which could even involve a multi-million pound revamp of the historic harbour.

Backing the plans are Invest Northern Ireland, the former Northern Ireland Office minister Sir Richard Needham and architect Peter Hunter, who helped transform the Laganside area of Belfast.

Kilkeel now lands 50% of the entire UK langoustine catch.

However as well as damaging fish quotas, there is also the issue of offshore wind farms, which many fishermen believe will damage the industry.

One planned wind farm on Kilkeel's doorstep is being proposed by First Flight Wind, a consortium made up of B9 Energy, DONG Energy and RES, and could be as little as 8km offshore and 40km wide along the Co Down coast – right on top of some of the most productive fishing areas in Europe.

The firm is currently undertaking two years of project design and assessment work in order to make applications for permission to construct the wind farm. If permission is granted, the wind farm could provide up to a fifth of Northern Ireland's electricity and be operational by 2020.

The proposed site would be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever carried out in Northern Ireland.

However the Kilkeel Collaborative Network, which comprises 12 businesses from the area, is embracing the change.

Alan McCulla and David Hill from the company Sea-Source are two of those involved with the network.

While they say they are concerned about the impact of offshore windfarms on fishing stocks, they are also open to the benefits of working with big energy firms, rather than against them.

"Fishing is in no way dead," said Alan.

"When you think about Kilkeel, there are about 60 trawlers sitting in the harbour.

"The harbour is essentially the town centre and we are thinking about how we can use our assets and our knowledge to help it grow.

"There has been talk about expanding the harbour for years but this collaboration between local businesses has helped reinvigorate those plans. We might be small but we can be a part of something much bigger."

But boats don't have to be used solely for fishing, according to David Hill.

"We have guys carrying out bird surveys for Scottish Power, we have people doing shipping surveys for the marine consultants Brown & May, we have fishermen helping on environmental impact assessments for Anatech structural engineers, and working for DONG."

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