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Cornish fishermen in troubled waters


My blog for October is about the hardships facing our fishermen.

A glass of pinot grigio poured, a Tesco (tut,tut!) seasfood lasagne sizzling from the microwave, I snuggled down to watch, ‘The Tudors’ on iPlayer, intrigued to see how the bootylicious Joss Stone would anthropomorphise into the ‘Flanders Mare’, the pragmatic Anne Of Cleves, when the phone rang.

“Jay ’ere, wanna bass do ’ee my ’andsome?”. In response, I replied, “I’m not going to say no, am I? Where are you?”,
" I’m over the pub, I’ve just come in but landed nothin’ worth the drive to Newlyn, come and buy me a pint and ’ave a geek". Consequently, the unmissable became missable!

The pub is across the village; I walked past what the tourist brochures ironically market as ‘white washed fishermens’ cottages’’, which under the Trade Description Act should more accurately be described as ‘second home owners investments leaching letting income out of the county cottages’; sadly, unless a fisherman inherits, the chance of buying a home is negligible and it’s not unusual for their families to live with parents or in caravan in a neighbour’s field.

In the pub, a few visitors were still around and ‘usual suspect’ locals were playing pool or sitting on their customary stools around the bar, putting the world to rights. My call had been from the son of a dear friend and we chatted about this and that; a couple of pints of Doombar later he became increasingly despondent as he didn’t know how long he could carry on fishing. He had invested in boat known as a ‘fast worker’ and a licence which entitled him to a quota for fish and shellfish which cost £19K… that’s for the licence not the boat. It wasn’t long before his dreams became a nightmare because the fish were illusive and chasing them with the rising cost of fuel, even subsidised, was around £25 a day.

The over-riding problem is dealing with the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP); every month DEFRA post out the latest information which constantly moves the goal posts; this creates fear and uncertainty with the imposition of rules that no-one seems to have come to grips with. Jay’s father had been a fisherman of legendary status, who for a packet of fags so I’m told, built traditional wooden clinker boats. One of his boats, Antoinette, had been abandoned on the beach because the fisherman who owned her couldn’t make a living; Jay bought it, made her water-tight, fitted a new engine and she was ready for sea again….BUT because she had been laid up and landings not recorded, the boat was given a limited licence, with an annual quota not to exceed 300 kilo. After appeal, in which Jay had to prove his credentials as a full-time fisherman, he has an unlimited licence but barely makes a subsistence living hand-lining mackerel and bass.

The tide could be turning for Cornish fishermen. The detested EU rules blamed for bringing the SW fishing industry to its knees may be consigned to the dustbin. The CFP governs every aspect of a fisherman’s working life, including forcing them to throw dead fish back into the sea if their quota is exceeded. Now the EU are admitting that their policies have been harmful; Brussels is so remote and centralised that the real concerns at local level are never heard, with annual quota setting, demanding year-on-year cutbacks. The discussions concerning devolution of power to member states is significant and the SW Fish Producers Organisation will be campaigning for the new CFP to be more locally responsive. Fishermen know better than desk-bound scientists where local stocks are sustainable.

Why do they do it? The easy answer is because they can’t do anything else. But it’s not that simple. I don’t buy into the romantic fantasy of Cornish seafarers that lingers around this brotherhood of individuals, but there is a difference which comes with the job description: being a fisherman is stating who you are, and not what you are. They have knowledge, not education, instilled down the generations from the unwritten encyclopaedia of maritime lore that wasn’t taught but is intuitive. From a woman who feels seasick a car wash, I shouldn’t make assumptions, however, I do believe they are hunters in an ancient sense and take the consequences; like Jay’s neighbour who steamed out to the Manacles one January morning – he and his boat were never seen again!

And what of my present of that beautiful fish? I dedicated it to one of my food heros, the vintage Keith Floyd, who recently staggered off to the vineyard in the sky, and for dinner we had my version of his bass with anchovy, tomatoes, red peppers and saffron potatoes!

Living in Cornwall

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That sounds like the first sensible CFP change ever. I have never been able to get my head round the pictures we see of dead fish being thrown overboard.

1 Oct, 2009


Cornwall or Scotland, our fishermen have been having a rough deal for years. £19k for a licence, whew!

1 Oct, 2009

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