Si finished his Seafish 3 week Introduction to Fishing course down in Newlyn last Friday and is now the proud holder of a shiny new certificate! The course was delivered by Seafood Cornwall Training and Simon was one of a dozen people to be the first batch of candidates to be fully funded to do this course in Cornwall.
The course provided a general overview of the fishing industry and was a mixture of practical and theoretical elements, broken up with trips down to the harbour and to the market to demonstrate what was being talked about in practice. There was also opportunity to talk to people on different fishing boats and chat to them about how they worked.
The course content focussed on a wide variety of subjects from gear construction and navigation to basic engineering and health and safety. By the end of the three weeks, as well as having had the opportunity to use the tools and techniques to make and rig nets, handle and maintain boats and their systems, everyone also left with up to date qualifications in first aid, food hygiene, sea survival and fire fighting.
The teaching was all of a very high standard; without exception the course was taught by industry professionals, and each day was filled to capacity. Si’s found there’s been a lot to take in! Throughout the course there was a strong focus on sustainability, highlighting technical observation methods to produce better productivity and selectivity in fishing. It was clear to Si that Seafish are trying to change the ethos of how people get into fishing and to change working practice for the better.
Si feels a lot more confident now knowing there are other young people choosing to go into fishing, and is extremely grateful to everyone at Seafood Cornwall Training for providing the opportunity and organising the course so well. Having had a chance to talk to people in the business about what they perceive the industry to be, he’s also come away with a strong feeling that there are a lot of public misconceptions about the fishing industry.
Simon was surprised by how easily people talked to him and the other candidates, despite being total newcomers to the industry. Everyone was very ready to answer questions and give opinions and advice freely. Newlyn is good example of one of the few remaining British communities devoted to one industry; almost every person Si met in Newlyn had something to do with fishing, whether it was crewing, delivering, marketing or processing. There are five fish shops in Newlyn, and other than a few small food shops, every other business is related to fishing supplies or support. It was a reminder that unless an industry is supported you can easily lose a whole community. Changes in legislation have a huge bearing on a situation like this and this was a topic which came up again and again.
There seems to be a general feeling that although fishing policies of the past have been frustrating they have also led to the rebuilding of stocks that were quite seriously endangered before. So although legislation is by no means all seen as negative, there is understandable frustration about those regulations still in force that penalise fishermen unnecessarily and lead to high fuel costs, discards and non-sustainable fishing. For example, the perception amongst fishermen based on the fish they are catching is that cod is currently booming. However, the figures for available cod given in scientists’ data and that which is reflected in practice are produced are often collected years apart, and so fishermen experience considerable delay before the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) can address the discrepancies and increase the cod quota accordingly (by 150% in January).
In our experience, public perception of the fishing industry tends to view fishermen using higher impact forms of fishing such as beam trawling as destructive and indifferent to the environmental consequences of their activities. However, as we understand it, things are by no means as simple as this. Although it would be ideal if everyone was fishing sustainably from small boats using hook and line this is not currently practical or viable on the large commercial scale of demand that Britain’s reduced offshore fleet is expected to meet, and without better support it is not possible for them to implement lower impact sustainable methods of fishing.
Si would definitely say that the fishermen he spoke to are more than aware of stocks that are and aren’t safe. They have a very good understanding of sustainability in fishing but lack investment from the government to implement it. Si was shocked by how incredibly expensive commercial fishing boats are and what they cost to run. For example, a set of chain mats for a trawl costing in the thousands will last about four months and then they’ll wear out. Gear has to be replaced on a regular basis and it doesn’t come cheaply; wreck netters have a guy employed ashore permanently who gets a share of the catch because they get destroyed so frequently. So to keep trying new things to improve the situation with regard to sustainability is costly. Every innovation is expensive and fishermen are having to fund it, while often being painted in the media as the villains of the piece.
In fact, everyone Si spoke to was gutted (excuse the pun…) about the issue of discards. It costs fishermen money to catch fish they can’t land; they’ve still had to pay for these fish to be towed along in a net, killed and thrown back over. Imagine if you spent all day doing a supermarket shop; spent hours picking up products, stacking your trolley and pushing it around the store, queuing at the till, spending your money then packing your bags and car boot. Imagine you then get home and unpack it and are forced to throw half of it in the bin knowing it could be eaten. You’d be pretty angry about it.
The issue of discards and quotas was highlighted last year by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight. In one episode Hugh looks at discard on a North Sea trawler, and cooks a meal using some of the fish caught that cannot be landed because it is over quota. The rest of the bycatch is thrown away, and they calculate that the fish could have fed two thousand people. You can see a clip here or watch all the episodes here.
There is a sense that the British fishing industry should be better supported by the government in terms of better education and support for boats. It is sometimes seen as a career that you do if you’ve got nothing else and it shouldn’t be. There are extremely skilled people working in fishing and this is underappreciated. Hopefully courses like these will go some way to changing this.