Fishermen rock boat over plans for Kilkeel wind farm
Fishermen are fighting to prevent potential disruption to their industry following proposals to introduce up to 100 wind turbines off the Co Down coast.
First Flight Wind is the company behind the plans to construct the wind farm which aims to deliver up to 20% of Northern Ireland's power.
While the development still has to secure planning consent and other approvals, fishermen have raised grave concerns.
It is understood that the fishermen are not against the principle of the wind farms to generate renewable energy, but claim that fishing was "totally ignored" when the site, which runs alongside Kilkeel, was identified.
Alan McCulla of the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation said: "We are in dialogue with Government and if we have to move lines on a map we will identify other areas where this can go for the benefit of Northern Ireland and the industry."
His fears concern "fishermen having to navigate through a forest of wind turbines" and the potential long-term damage to fish stocks.
The zone was identified in 2011 by the Crown Estate which owns the UK seabed and a year later First Flight Wind was selected for the project.
If the plans are approved the farm would be operational by 2020 and as a result would cut Northern Ireland's dependence on imported fuel to run its power stations.
The wind farm would be visible from land but would be at least five miles out to sea.
It would also help Stormont meet renewable energy targets.
DUP MP Jim Shannon said: "I don't believe that First Flight Wind convinced the fishermen.
"They said that it would be possible for fishing boats to fish in between the turbines; I don't believe they have understood what the issues are.
"Then there is the impact of the wind turbine on the seabed itself, because that disrupts the marine life where we have the fishing sector."
Newtownards councillor and former fisherman Angus Carson said the fears were "justified".
A spokesman for First Flight Wind said it hoped to accommodate the industry's reservations.
First Flight Wind's spokesman Michael Harper said: "We recognise in certain circumstances like adverse weather it is more difficult to fish, potentially, within a wind farm.
"It is very important to sit down with fishermen during this design phase so we can work out how best to design a project that meets their needs and locate it to avoid the areas of most significant fishing activity."