Adrian Bartless is a busy man – an ex-fisherman, seafood champion, vice chair of the industry-let charity Fishing into the Future (FITF) head of marine operations at Ecomotus, lecturer and newly appointed director of the Plymouth Fishing and Seafood Association.
“There’s 168 hours in a week,” he told Fishing News. “I’m an insomniac. I’m up to about 98 hours at the moment – so I’ve a few to go yet!
“I’ve not slept more than four or five hours a night in my entire life. As a kid I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t sleep. Then I fell into the fishing industry – and less sleep came hand in hand.”
Originally from a Wiltshire-based farming family, Adrian’s love of the sea or, more specifically, love for shellfish began shortly after his uncle moved to Paignton in the early 1970s.
“Paignton was a big crabbing port back then, with generations of fishing families, shipwrights, vessel owners and fishermen working out of the town and helping to move the crabbing industry forward.
“When we used to come down on holiday, we’d go out on the Shirley Betty, and go off Berry Head to catch crabs.”
With more visits to Paignton, Adrian began taking his first tentative steps into commercial fishing. “In 1984 I came down on holiday and tried fishing on a small day-boat – but I didn’t quite get on with it.
“I came back down in April 1986 and jumped on my cousin Nick Bright’s little boat. We were landing in Paignton when Nick shouted up to the skipper of the Helen Claire: “Are you looking for crew?”
“Within two days I was on the Helen Claire, waking up in the mid-Channel thinking: ‘Oh my God’ – I couldn’t see land.”
In 2001, Adrian took a sabbatical from the industry, taking up a role at a car factory. However, after five and a half years, and with the routine of the nine-to-five becoming a struggle, the lure of the sea proved too strong.
“Me and Nick, who by then owned the Helen Claire and the Ebonnie, were sat down one day and he said: ‘Shall we set up a delivery company for the shellfish we land?’
“We set up the Really Interesting Crab Company, and made our first delivery in September 2011. And that’s when my life started to drastically change.”
Using innovative methods, the business quickly grew.
“We led the way to where the industry has gone today, really. How we did things was quite groundbreaking. It was very personal. I used to do front-of- house training with all the staff, so they knew what the fish was and where it came from.
“We used to bring chefs onboard the Ebonnie to show them how the boat operates and catches. I learnt quickly about the naivety around our seafood – even with professional chefs.”
Adrian decided to tackle some of that naivety, firstly through the setting up of the Crabstock festival, and later as one half of the Crabstock Boys – a collaboration with food blogger Andy Hunting, which saw the pair tour festivals nationwide for almost a decade.
“I’d prep and talk about the industry, Andy was cooking recipes. The most we ever did was seven recipes in 45 minutes with fresh fish, prepped and cooked.”
A pop-up restaurant called Crabstock and Two Smoking Lobsters followed, operating at food festivals throughout the country. The hugely popular restaurant ran for eight years, before Adrian gradually moved into consultancy-led roles.
“I’ve become vice chair of FITF after being a trustee, where I work closely with Emma Plotnek and Dave Stevens. I’ve also just been made director of the new Plymouth Fishing and Seafood Association, working with CEO Edward Baker and Alison Freeman from The Fishmongers’ Company.”
For the past three years, Adrian has also been working in a consultancy role for South West company Ecomotus, whose EcoPro system won Product of the Year at the 2022 Fishing News Awards.
“We put our hydrogen-on-demand system on vessels to increase the efficiency of the whole engine. It provides between 5% and 10% fuel savings, but it’s not just about that – it’s also about more efficient burning of fuel, better oil consistencies and reducing emissions and engine wear.”
With such a broad range of roles, Adrian doesn’t have a ‘typical day’. “I’m checking emails every morning, talking with clients. I’m also a familiar face at net-zero, emissions and efficiency workshops, working with various organisations towards net-zero in the marine industry.
“My role mainly is trying to make the fleet as efficient as possible, so it can carry on aiding the catching sector throughout the UK.”
His role may have evolved from fisherman, to seafood ambassador, to vessel efficiency facilitator – but underpinning everything is Adrian’s love for the industry.
“For our industry to survive, you need passionate people. There are innovative, talented, busy people throughout our industry – and we’re all doing it for the love of it.”
Adrian Bartlett can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.
Sign up to Fishing News’ FREE e-newsletter here.