PETER FROST has been in Norfolk where a row is brewing about crabs.
As regular Ramblings readers will know for me the North Norfolk Coast has many attractions. Not least is the crab harvest.
Cromer Crabs are legendary, so legendary that a year or so ago the seaside resort of Cromer tried to get the same European regional name protection as Champagne or Melton Mowbray Pork pies for its Cromer Crabs.
They failed, and to add insult to injury at about the same time mega food processing company Young’s deserted Cromer and moved its crab processing operation to Humberside ignoring protests from Norfolk locals including Stephen Fry, and Delia Smith.
They still catch delicious crabs all along the North Norfolk coast and there are stalls and crab shacks selling the wonderful crustaceans wherever you venture.
Local pubs, cafes and restaurants usually have crabs on the menu from simple sandwiches and salads to exotic Thai style crab-cakes. My favourite, and my own dinner party signature dish, is a San Francisco inspired crab stew called Cioppino.
One of my favourite ports on this coast is Wells next the Sea. Wells is still a fishing port but it’s also a pleasantly old fashioned holiday resort. Sea going ships still arrive at the town quay where an old sailing ship gives trips for visitors.
All along the harbour front local fisherfolk sell the freshest crabs.
This summer when Ann and I stopped off in Wells we discovered an angry atmosphere along the harbour. The local crab fishers are not happy, they are having to give up fishing the Race Bank, some of the most productive crab banks 17 miles off shore.
The argument isn’t about sustainability of the harvest. It’s about a huge 91 turbine offshore wind-farm that is planned on exactly the place where the best crabs are found.
Now I’m definitely a fan of windmills, I love the ancient iconic mills and pumps that are such an important part of the East Anglian landscape.
I’m also a fan of the new sculptural turbines that are such a clean way to turn wind energy into electricity.
Huge offshore wind-farms seem to me to be a great contribution to our move towards green energy. But does it have to be at the cost of a centuries old industry and the delicious harvest it produces?
So who is behind his move to take over the Race Bank and send the crab fleet packing?
You might be surprised. The Crown Estate seems to own the sea floor even that far from the coast and of course the boss is Her Majesty the Queen – perhaps the only woman who could teach Google or Starbucks a thing or two about avoiding taxes.
The Crown Estate have contracted Danish based multi-national energy giant Dong. Dong have obtained an injunction from the High Court and are offering, what the crabbers describe as derisory compensation.
The long term problem is that the Race Bank is some of the best and richest crab-rich territory. Locals know it is the best ground in the whole area. Once the wind turbines are built the sand will disappear and along with it the crabs.
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations told us “This is a very serious issue, to my knowledge, this is the first time the courts have been used.
“As an organisation, we have had 30 years of dealing with development companies: oil, gas, cables, pipelines, you name it – we’ve dealt with companies like BP, Statoil and BT Subsea. It’s not a question of fishermen saying ‘the sea belongs to us’ – it’s always possible to come to an arrangement”.
The message from the crabbers was more straightforward. “We may be raggedy-arsed fishermen, but we’re not going to lie down and take orders from some great, big multinational company. If they think that, they’ve never been to Norfolk.”
Meanwhile the crabbers aren’t planning to shift. It seems Norfolk’s long tradition of rebellion and fighting laws and court decisions that they don’t agree with might just be alive and well and living in Wells next the Sea.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 22 August 2014