Fishermen and surfers are at loggerheads over use of the sea.

Cromer surfers clash with fishermen over North Sea safety

Saturday, July 16, 2011
10.34 AM

A shore war has broken out in Cromer as surfers and crab fisherman clash over use of the sea.

Fishermen want the growing army of surfers to stay away from where they launch and land their boats - amid fears that “someone will be killed” if there is a collision.

Tensions almost boiled over a fortnight ago, when there was a frank exchange of views between surfers and some fishermen, whose boat narrowly missed the boarders as they landed it during a heavy swell.

North Norfolk District Council has stepped in and put up seafront signs, warning the surf community to not go into the water between the Bath House and the doctor’s steps because the area is used by working boats.

But surfers said they had not been consulted, and said the signs were “knee-jerk” and a “direct attack on surfers”.

John Davies, Cromer lifeboat coxswain and a fisherman, said the fishermen found it difficult to spot surfers close to the shore when the sea was rough.

He said: “They go surfing when there’s a lot of swell. When we are coming back to the land we can’t see them. We run in on a wave to get to shore and all of a sudden there’s a surfer. Either someone’s going to get killed or a boat’s going to turn over.”

He added: “There’s all the rest of the beach to surf from.

““You know if you hit a surfer he is going to be killed. It’s a big issue for us. But they don’t seem to see the danger of it. It’s ridiculous.”

Last year, the council produced an advisory leaflet, but the instructions have been beefed up this year on the signs on the seafront.

Adam Frere-Smith, chairman of North Norfolk Surf Lifesaving Club, said: “There was no consultation on the signs. They were a surprise to us. Emotions are running very high among the surfing community. There’s a big local population of people who travel from all over Norfolk to surf Cromer.

“If the signs had just kept to the original plan of just warning water users, nobody would have a problem. But to have this knee-jerk reaction of banning water craft users from the beach is wrong.

“There were no tensions before the signs went up, but this will inflame tensions.”

Ben Kewell, who operates Glide Surf School at Cromer, has designed a new sign, which aims to warn water users of the potential dangers of the fishing boats when they are landing - without singling out surfers.

He said: “I support the views of the fishermen. They’ve been here for hundreds of years and I wouldn’t want their livelihoods being in danger. They are quite rightly worried about there being an accident.”

He added: “But I was annoyed when the signs had been put up right next to where I set up my surfing school each day. I was disappointed to not be consulted.

“What about swimmers, people in kayaks and bodyboarders? It feels like a direct attack on surfers.”

A council spokesman said there had been “ongoing concern” over the safety of surfers in close proximity to fishing boats.

He said the signs had been put up after “consultation with a number of surfers”, but accepted that “not all surfers think it is reasonable”.

He said the signs were “advisory”, and added: “Given the further comments we have received from surfers in the past week or so we have offered to revise the plans on the advisory notices and we are currently in the process of seeking comments on these new proposals from Cromer fishermen.

“The aim is to ensure that everyone who wishes to use this popular area of Cromer beach is able to do so with enjoyment and in safety and I am sure that we will be able to reach an amicable agreement.”

● What do you think? Write to the Letters Editor, 31, Church Street, Cromer, NR27 9ES, email steve.downes@archant.co.uk or join the debate by following @nthnorfolknews on Twitter.