Being the most westerly safe haven in England – and having a unique and successful fishing industry – Newlyn in Cornwall could have a brighter future ahead – as long as Brexit doesn’t ruin its markets. Phil Lockley reports
Of both the fish and the shellfish landed to Newlyn, the majority is exported, much to EU countries like Spain and France. Indeed, Newlyn’s prime markets on species like megrim sole are almost entirely in Spain.
Unless Brexit delivers a balanced outcome, Newlyn may face one of its most challenging times. The infrastructure of its fishing industry may be seriously damaged, and its leaders are already showing concern.
Equally, they are angry at being the underdog to their counterparts in Brussels, and at watching French boats fish on within 12 miles of the shore, while UK boats are driven back to port with insufficient quota on species like haddock and cod.
Work is ongoing to promote more consumption of Cornish-landed fish within the UK. Hake – once dependent upon demand from Spain – is now so popular that over 70% of the hake landed into Newlyn, where it was the single most valuable species landed in 2018, is now consumed in Britain.
However, hake is only one of over 20 prime species landed in Cornwall, and like it or not, ports like Newlyn depend on export markets. If, post-Brexit, the exports continue without too many hurdles, Newlyn’s wealth will remain – if not, the port may face a huge downturn.
The fearful uncertainty about whether the UK will truly leave the CFP has already put on hold some future plans for further development of Newlyn harbour.
Newlyn fishermen will consider themselves betrayed if the government is unable to secure UK-only access within the 12-mile limit – and fears of this being traded away remain, because the shores of Cornwall are surrounded by the finest fishing opportunities in Europe.
Newlyn’s major player, W Stevenson & Sons Ltd (WS&S) – vessel owner, auctioneer and merchant – may soon be joining forces with one of Cornwall’s largest fish processors, Ocean Fish.
Each company has a fleet of vessels tuned to its own requirements. WS&S has a range of beam trawlers to supply prime species to export markets; Ocean Fish has smaller vessels, sardine ring-netters, scallopers and inshore stern trawlers to address demands from UK markets, including supermarket chains. With a joint understanding of two specialist trades, the port may see expanding markets.
Rumours abound that a second fish auction company may soon be trading at Newlyn, and that Newlyn’s shout auction may be challenged by an electronic auction – a move supported by few, if any, merchants – but no official decision is yet in sight.
Over the past year, fishing from Newlyn and adjacent ports has been quite good, but inshore species like mackerel have taken a serious downturn. The spring run of mackerel – so essential to the small hand-line boats – didn’t take place. As a result, prices paid for hand-line-caught mackerel at Newlyn fishmarket have often soared – more like lottery wins than normal pay-outs.
Bids of over £6/kg for large/medium mackerel are now a regular occurrence. Many days, merchants who can afford to bid at that level must write off the sale of such mackerel as loss leaders, and hope that the summer shoals will soon return.
Shellfish landings have followed a similar pattern, and the fall in crab landings has forced prices up, with processing firms paying heavily for the raw product and retail sales of hand-picked crab meat being as high as £52/kg.
However, Newlyn shellfish firms like Rowse Fishing Ltd now support a considerable fleet of vivier boats, with a new one under construction, and see future sales of shellfish increasing.
Considering the uncertainty of Brexit, morale among most fishermen in the region is good. In fact, the do-or-die call for a no-deal Brexit remains on the lips of many. What will become of Newlyn by this time next year is not predictable, and to the merchants, that uncertainty is not welcome.
Hake, monkfish and crab lead the way in catch value from diverse Newlyn fleet
Including beamers, netters, single/twin-rig trawlers and vivier-crabbers, together with an equally diverse fleet of inshore vessels, among which toshers are well-represented, Newlyn is home to probably the most multi-faceted local fishing fleet in the UK.
This well-balanced mix of vessel size and type is reflected by the broad range of species that contributed to the provisional 2018 port value total of £29.8m from 13,939t. These figures correspond to a marginal increase in catch value and a 3% increase in tonnage, mainly due to variations in catch composition over the course of the two years.
Depending on the seasonal nature of fishing activity, and the area they are fishing in, some of Newlyn’s prominent fleet of netters sometimes land their catches directly into France, while several other local boats consistently consign catches from Cornwall for sale on Plymouth and Brixham markets.
With a value of £19m from 6,222t, demersal species continue to dominate landings at Newlyn (63%), where shellfish (£8.6m/2,382t) accounted for a further 30% of the port’s annual catch value, and pelagic species, mainly sardines and mackerel, contributed a further 6%. (See Table 1)
The unprecedented current abundance of hake on the grounds west of Newlyn saw this species (£4.8m/1,819t), mainly landed by netters from an MSC-certified fishery, replace monkfish (£3.4m/1,053t), from both mobile and static-gear boats, as the single most valuable species landed at Newlyn last year.
Marked increases in quayside prices for brown crab saw this species jump from sixth to third place, with annual catch value rising 47% to £3.5m from £1.9m, despite a slight drop in tonnage.
Sardines were another prominent forward mover, with an annual catch value rising to £1.7m/ 4,920t. Compared to the 2018 figures of £982,000/3,145t, these figures equate to a 70% rise in catch value and 56% in tonnage. (See Table 2)
Zero cod catch advice not helpful in mixed fisheries of VIIe-k, says Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation
Zero catch advice for cod in 2020 is unrealistic, and not really useful for fisheries management decisions in the mixed fisheries of areas VIIe-k, says the leader of the Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation (CFPO), Paul Trebilcock.
“In the recently published ICES advice, which will be used to develop the EU Commission proposals on 2020 TACs, there is once again zero catch advice for Celtic Sea cod, primarily because of the question asked of ICES by the EU Commission,” he said.
“ICES is required to present its catch advice for individual stocks in terms of achieving MSY within one year, taking no account of whether that is achievable or realistic. It is simply nonsense, and the EU Commission cannot propose a TAC of zero, because it knows that with its flawed landing obligation regulations, it would close all demersal fisheries in area VII from 1 January.
“The Commission will have to wait until mid-November, when it gets the mixed-fisheries advice – where there will be a consideration of the advice and a moderation of that advice. There will not be a zero TAC for Celtic Sea cod, and it is crazy (or a cynical negotiating strategy) for the Commission to ask ICES to present its advice in this way.
“Even though it is nonsense, it has caused significant alarm, because under the EU’s landing obligation, it would stop all demersal fishing – because, at some point, everyone who fishes in the Celtic Sea catches cod,” said Paul Trebilcock.
He added that ‘looking at the broader ICES advice document’ – across the range of stocks important to the CFPO fleet as a whole – there is positive news for haddock, monkfish, megrim, and Bristol Channel and English sole stocks.
He explained, “This is part of an ongoing process, and we will be working closely with CEFAS and DEFRA to ensure that the final outcome is the best it can be.”
He added that CFPO remains a ‘truly broad church’. Inshore and offshore, mobile and static-gear boats make up its diverse membership, and this is reflected in the CFPO board ‘that effectively runs the CFPO’.
“The board are all active fishermen and boat owners from across the fishing spectrum, and unlike some other organisations, the CFPO believes that all parts of the diverse fishing fleet have more in common than issues that divide. All parts of the catching sector are worried about the ever-growing implications of the present EU landing obligation.”
In the CFPO’s recent newsletter, Paul Trebilcock told the members, “In my opinion, even before the implementation of the EU’s landing obligation, most, if not all, CFPO member vessels were already working on improved selectivity and fishing practices in various ways (including partnerships with CEFAS, DEFRA and the MMO), and I am pleased to see these efforts are continuing across the breadth of our membership.
“Targeting small, unwanted, or unmarketable fish has never been, and never will be, the practice of CFPO members. It is ironic that in our area many of the discards appear to be regulatory driven – for example, bass or spurdog – species that are not covered by the EU’s landing obligation.
“The EU’s landing obligation will continue to present some significant challenges in the ultra-mixed fisheries we have here in the South West, particularly given the constraints of our current quota allocations under the CFP’s relative stability share principle. As we make our way further through the year, these challenges (and others we haven’t yet seen) are likely to intensify.
“These facts seem to have been lost on NGOs and others who prefer to repeat inaccurate sound-bites, ones that only serve to mislead the public and display the ignorance of the NGOs.
“Although those sound-bites are frustrating, those dogmatic opinions of the NGOs, and the way that they have been expressed, are beginning to distance the NGOs from where the real decisions are made.”
On its website, the CFPO presents detailed advice on how the landing obligation may affect vessels of various categories, and various types of fishing.
CFPO’s newsletter adds, “A high-level Landing Obligation Forum has been formally established and is chaired by the NFFO, with DEFRA, MMO and UKAFPO representatives on the forum. The forum will focus on operational and practical issues presented by the EU’s landing obligation.
“It is important that members are clear what derogations and flexibilities are available for certain gears. It is also important that these are properly understood and used when necessary. Current flexibilities and derogations will have to be justified annually, and therefore it is vital that the use of them is recorded properly.
“The CFPO has produced a range of simple gear-specific advisory notes (printed and laminated on request) – notes aimed at skippers/crew for onboard use. They have been provided for each of the following gears:
- Area VIIe-k trawl fisheries using greater than 80mm codend
- Area VII gill, tangle and trammel net fisheries
- Area VII beam trawl fisheries using greater than 80mm codend mesh size (vessel engine power over 221kW).
“Following a request from the CFPO, the MMO has confirmed that it will issue dispensation letters to vessels that want to use gear configurations that demonstrably improve selectivity, but are not consistent with current EU technical regulations (such as a square mesh panel in the codend). If you would like to know more about the different gear configurations available, take a look at the Gearing Up tool, where you can look at the results from over 300 gear trials: tool.gearingup.eu
“The CFPO has also been involved in a high-level group involving retailers and NGOs to counter some of the misconceptions and ensure that the positive efforts of fishermen, regarding selectivity and reducing unwanted catches, are heard.”
Paul Trebilcock added, “Across Europe, we have had six months of the landing obligation being in force, and so many times, those obligations are incompatible with the fisheries in question. There are derogations and there are flexibilities – but until those problems are sorted out, we are entering the second half of the year facing huge problems.
“The most important thing to stress is that skippers must record their catches. It is a misnomer to suggest that the landing obligation is a discards ban, because written within the rules there are plenty of discards of non-TAC species. With TAC species commonly found in trawl fisheries, there are things like de minimis where a certain degree of discarding is allowed.
“If all of this isn’t recorded, then in all likelihood, the Commission will see discarding by de minimis as not necessary, and fishermen may end up having to land everything, putting even more strain on the remaining quota.”
A good first six months at Newlyn, says CFPO
As the 2019 fishing year passes into the final six months, although catches landed into Newlyn are slightly down in terms of tonnage, they have in part been offset by good and reasonably consistent prices.
Leader of the Cornish FPO, Paul Trebilcock, said: “As always, there is strong demand for top-quality, sustainably caught Cornish fish, and buyers across the fish-buying world continue to recognise this and look to buy from our members, whether it is Cornish MSC hake or magnificent Cornish megrims.
“Despite Brexit uncertainties, endless bureaucratic burdens and ill-informed NGO rhetoric, fishermen in Newlyn and across Cornwall (and beyond) continue to be optimistic about the future. There has been investment in the fleet and there will, I am sure, be a bright future for many.
“Newlyn Pier and Harbour Commissioners (NPHC) has recently invested in the refurbishment of the market, offering a modern fit-for-purpose market building which is a good signal of their views of the future of Newlyn continuing as the South West’s number one whitefish port.
“There has been some controversy regarding the introduction of a second auctioneer on Newlyn market. For what it is worth, the CFPO has been clear that we believe a single auctioneer is the best way forward, primarily because we think a single auctioneer enables clear communication between boats, market and buyers, leading to better management of market supply and demand.
“Hake has been a great example of this, but the same is true across the range of species sold on Newlyn market. By working with the market and buyers in Newlyn, we have seen the hake landings of CFPO members increase from around 300t in 2010 to around 2,000t in 2018, and at the same time, prices have been steadily improving.
“This has been greatly helped by working closely with Newlyn’s head auctioneer Ian Oliver (of W Stevenson & Sons Ltd) to better manage market supply and to understand market demands. We are lucky in the South West as we also have the excellent Plymouth and Brixham markets close by, and these have been able to support, and take hake when required.
“In fact, I think the three independent and well-run markets in the South West help to keep competition high for buyers and boats, ensuring quality and price are always as good as they can be.”
Megrim needs UK promotion
Given the present shortfall in demand from Spain, prices on megrim sole at Newlyn fishmarket are ‘holding up’, say the auctioneers. However, megrim sole is ‘a perfect example’ of a fish that the media could promote for consumption in the UK – as was successfully done with Cornish hake.
Peter Aylott, chief executive officer of vessel owner and merchant W Stevenson & Sons Ltd (WS&S), said that megrim sole is just one of a number of prime species landed at Newlyn where the media could help to get British fish back onto the plates of British people.
Megrim sole is little-known in the UK, says leading food critic Josh Barrie. “If you’ve heard of megrim sole, you’re already one up on a lot of people. It’s hardly a popular fish in Britain. Its cousins, meanwhile, lemon sole and Dover sole, have been on menus across the land, piled on fish counters, and featured on cookery shows, for years.
“Granted, the megrim is not quite as delicate, not quite as easy to work with, or as refined in texture. But, to most palates, it still holds flavour, and it remains a pleasant flatfish to pan-fry in lemon butter, perhaps, or serve on the bone – my favourite way – in a rich tomato and caper sauce.
“But megrim may be about to have its moment. Its key attractions are low price, ready availability and – that ever-potent word when discussing food these days, indeed, more so from the sea – sustainability.
“Megrim is abundant in Cornwall’s surrounding waters, making it cheaper than lemon and significantly more affordable than the revered Dover sole.”
Over 60% of the prime species sold at Newlyn fishmarket is landed by beam trawlers owned by WS&S. Currently, 10 vessels are in operation, and catches so far this year have been ‘pretty good for most species’, says Peter Aylott.
He explained, “Landings of Dover sole are strong, and monkfish, too – but landings of megrim are a little weaker than normal. In terms of the weight of species landed, the quantities of hake brought back to Newlyn have varied. However, since the hake gill-netters are landing more strategically, prices are fluctuating less – some days, high prices of around £6/kg have occurred; other days, back to the normal of around £3.50/kg to £4/kg.
“Although the Spanish demand for megrim has fallen, convincing more British people to eat such fish is definitely an option – one that we at WS&S back 100%. Promoting fish is all about widespread education, and the drive via the media was so successful in the UK sales of hake – we often see hake and chips on a par with cod and chips.
“At Newlyn, we have a busy fishing industry – fishermen hard at work, merchants busy trading fish, mainly for export – but we need television programmes showing people in Britain how to prepare and cook fish like megrim, a species that, as yet, they don’t know, but a beautiful tasty fish, a unique product.
“It’s no good just filming a piece of megrim placed in a pan with a bit of butter – there’s preparation first, and if shown how easy that can be, I’m sure more British people would experiment with megrim.
“However, that degree of promotion will take time, and because our export markets to Spain have fallen, the shortfall has encouraged some of our skippers to head east into the Channel searching for monkfish, instead of the Western Approaches, a haunt liked by many skippers.
“However, the quality of fish in the English Channel is, at present, very high, especially species like monk, lemon sole and more – outstanding quality – and our skippers are taking that opportunity.”
Cornish Sardine Management Association receives MSC award
The Cornish Sardine Management Association (CSMA) has received a Marine Stewardship Council award for 2019 in recognition of its contribution to the sustainable management of the sardine fishery off the coast of Cornwall.
At the award ceremony, held recently at Fishmongers’ Hall in London, CSMA’s assessment work was described by the MSC as a ‘fresh approach to data collection, with industry and scientific support’.
“Self-sampling data collection of sardine catches by skippers of the Cornish ring-netters has helped ensure sustainable exploitation of the Cornish sardine stock,” said the MSC, adding, “While demonstrating an example of scientific innovation, the work of CSMA has helped ensure retention of its MSC certificate.”
The aims of the CSMA were stepped up three years ago after the scientific assessment of the North European sardine stock changed, and stock assessment was split from a single stock into two – area VIII and area VII.
However, because the sardine fisheries within area VII are relatively small ‘in pelagic fishery terms’, insufficient sampling data was then available, and the advisory catch limits given by ICES became ‘precautionary’, resulting in a tight voluntary restriction to the ring-net catches.
For the past three years, members of CSMA, both fishermen and processors, have worked in a fisheries-science partnership (FSP) with CEFAS to gain sufficient self-sampling data, and as a result, the recommended catch limit for this year’s fishery is ‘considerably better’, said Gus Caslake, chairman of the CSMA.
He told Fishing News: “Last year, we set our catch limits per vessel. The fleet is voluntarily capped at 15 vessels, and each must be under 15m in overall length – and the vessels of our members agreed to fish within those limits.
“We agreed a total catch limit for the season at 8,000t, and our total catch from 2018 (between July and December) was around 5,600t. Together with the catches at the start of this year, January to April, that figure went up to around 7,500t, so that was well within the 8,000t limit that we set. Some boats caught up to their limit, and some undershot.
“As far as size and oil content is concerned, the processors were happy with the fish, weighing 14 to 18 fish per kilo. As far as the quality is concerned, that’s something that the skippers pride themselves on. The fish is stored in slush ice and landed immediately after capture – there’s no long steaming time, as much of the fish is caught less than a mile from the harbours. The Cornish sardine is of the highest quality, high in omega-3 oils and extremely tasty.
“Ring-net skippers are getting ready for this year’s fishery. Recently, we received stock advice from CEFAS, and the area VII sardine stock appears buoyant, at around 156,000t.
“Results of the CEFAS biomass assessment from its Celtic Sea survey (PELTIC – Pelagic Ecosystem Survey in the Western Channel and Celtic Sea) are very good.
“That data, together with data from our vessels and processors, is fed into a biomass model, giving a projected figure for the total stock. At present, that estimate is around 156,000t – an excellent trend; the stock is increasing and showing improvement – allowing us to set our catch allocations slightly higher than last year. We will continue self-sampling, and have engaged with CEFAS scientists to continue the fisheries-science partnership during 2019 and 2020.
“This year’s PELTIC survey will begin soon, and from now until December, we will be feeding our self-sampling data to CEFAS, allowing CEFAS to reassess the biomass for 2020. Depending on those results, our catch limit may be increased or decreased – but we have a capped fleet, and are not looking for larger vessels or bulk catches. Maintaining MSC certification is very important, both to us and to our markets for Cornish sardines. Due to the work undertaken by our members in meeting the stringent MSC requirements, we are now the only MSC-certified sardine fishery in Europe.”
The CEFAS marine science blog says: “The PELTIC programme, originally funded by the DEFRA project Poseidon, was developed specifically to address the gaps in knowledge around small pelagic fish and the ecosystem in which they play such a key role. It helps us to understand what species of fish are present, in what numbers, and how they may be used sustainably.
“These integrated ecosystem surveys, designed and implemented by CEFAS and carried out onboard the research vessel Endeavour, have been taking place every autumn since 2012. The data collected has brought novel insights into the abundance and distribution of various small pelagic fish species, as well as the environmental drivers.
“The survey provides an annual opportunity to monitor not just the pelagic fish populations, but also the state of the marine environment in the region. In fact, the PELTIC surveys have collected many ‘firsts’, [including] first data on the distribution and abundance, and spawning events, of sardine (pilchard) in the northernmost limit of its distribution since the 1960s.”
Gus Caslake explained how the liaison with CEFAS, both long-term and in its PELTIC survey, ‘went a long way to gaining MSC accreditation’.
He added, “Our aims of limiting impact go further, and the length of ring-net used by CSMA members must be no greater than 440m. Of the fleet of 15 boats, around half are dedicated ring-netters, with the remainder able to change over to other methods after the season ends. However, for those multi-purpose boats, ring-netting remains the largest portion of the yearly grossing.
“We underwent an annual MSC audit in June, and its findings were positive. On MSC audits, the fishery must score 80% to retain the accreditation certification, and we achieved that. The MSC has made it clear to us that our high score reflects the continued effort from both the fishermen and the buyers who take part in the scientific studies.
“MSC certification is important to us; our markets are specific, and are gained through leading processors and suppliers like Ocean Fish, Falfish, Interfish and others. We are the only sardine fishers that can supply and trade the product as Cornish sardines. It is very important to keep that link between our catchers and our buyers, all of whom are members of our association.
“We are optimistic that there will be plenty of fish out there this season; signs so far look good. We will maintain our fisheries-science partnership, to fish within sustainable limits. From data now available, area VII’s sardine stock appears better than any other sardine stock in Europe. In my opinion, there is a bright future for the Westcountry ring-net fishery.”
Quest for Newlyn fishing museum
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and now living in Newlyn, retired teacher Rich Stever is on a quest to raise funds to open a fishing museum at Newlyn – one where modern technology will allow people to experience what life is like working on a fishing boat.
His link with Cornwall began over 30 years ago when he met a ‘Newlyn girl’, Jowana Harman, who became his wife. Now in retirement, they crossed the Atlantic and moved to Newlyn, where Rich’s wish to learn more of Celtic heritage was fuelled by his mother-in-law, Liz Harman (88), a Cornish bard (a title given in recognition of devotion to Celtic culture).
“Among many things, a Cornish bard is a storyteller, someone who can deliver real stories, tales that originate from the Celtic culture surrounding places like Newlyn,” said Rich Stever.
After producing three CD volumes of Newlyn folk stories and music, his contact with the fishing industry triggered his wish to get involved in capturing as much of that history as possible, by creating a Newlyn fishing museum under the acronym FISH – Fishing Industry and Seafarer’s Heritage. “But I have a long way to go in order to find backing for that project,” he said.
“I didn’t make the CDs for any personal profit; any funds from the CDs went to support the Mission, supporting a good cause. In gathering content for the CDs, I found that the people I spoke to were seeking a sense of nostalgia and wanted to hear stories about home, and listen to Cornish music – and among those people I found a wealth of talent. In all, we sold about 1,000 copies and raised about £10,000 for the Mission.
“From that, I wondered which way I might help to preserve the Cornish culture. I toyed with the idea of finding some way to create a fishing museum – a heritage centre.
“I have managed to collect a group of people who want to be involved in the project, and I want all aspects of the Newlyn community to be involved. I can see areas of Newlyn’s fishing history where tales, music and many other topics are, as yet, neither recorded nor held in a place where others can see that heritage.
“If successful, and a site for a museum can be found, we could bring modern technology into that museum – virtual reality – maybe a simulation room, so that people can come and experience what it is like working on a fishing boat in a storm. There are many ways in which we can project that heritage.”
In light of the current political pressure on the South West fishing industry, Rich Stever realises that he has a steep hill to climb, but his immense enthusiasm to create a museum may unlock funding from the industry and other sources to see his dream come true.
New deep-water hull designs are required for beam trawlers
Beam trawler designs that stem from the Dutch fleet are less suitable for working in the Western Approaches than in the shallower seas of the English Channel, say the skippers of the W Stevenson & Sons (WS&S) fleet of 10 beamers.
Being ‘on the doorstep’ of lucrative grounds in the Western Approaches, many Newlyn vessels aim much of their year at deep-water species like megrim sole and monkfish.
And while WS&S owns the majority of the beam trawlers that work from Newlyn, apart from a couple of vessels within its fleet, the majority of these boats have limited access to the Western Approaches, and only during favourable weather during mid-year.
Peter Aylott, chief executive officer of WS&S, says that new beam trawler designs are long overdue – vessels with greater length, more beam and deeper draft, making them more suited to the longer seas found in the Western Approaches.
His time spent at sea in the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron supports that claim.
He told Fishing News: “At WS&S, our beam trawlers, at present, are old, some being 50 years of age – boats that were bought many years ago from Holland, boats that are designed to fish in water much shallower than where our skippers want to fish.
“To support our export trade, and to support that of many export buyers who trade on Newlyn fishmarket, fish from the Western Approaches is specific to those markets, demand from Spain being a major factor.
“Seeking such deep-water fish for much of the year is the mainstay of the bigger boats in our fleet, so our plan is to develop a fleet of better-designed beam trawlers. That has been a plan of WS&S for some years now.”
Suitable vessels like Cornishman PZ 512 and Billy Rowney PZ 532 are well-armed for deep-water work. However, smaller boats like Algrie PZ 199, Aaltje Adriaantje PZ 198, Twilight III PZ 137 and others will, during the winter months, move to calmer waters. In future years, some of these vessels may be replaced by vessels more suited to fishing in the Western Approaches.
Newlyn continues to deliver as a trust port during challenging times
Just over 100 trust ports remain in Britain. Trust ports operate under a statute written as far back as 1906 – a statute that binds the objectives of all trust ports.
Newlyn harbour master Rob Parsons explained: “Under the Newlyn Harbour Statute, such a port is set up and governed in a way to include the benefit of its fishing industry.
“But the statute includes other aspects – first and foremost, we are a port, a safe haven, one that holds a thriving fishing industry, but Newlyn harbour remains an independent trust port.
“The duty of the trust board members and staff is to hand the port on to succeeding generations in the same or better condition – so future generations remain the ultimate stakeholder. A trust port has no shareholders who require a dividend.
“We have Harbour Revision Orders and byelaws to deal with, some of which are outdated and, in the next few years, may be changed – but the business of Newlyn harbour commissioners is firstly that of a port, and then that of the port’s fishing industry.”
A government statement says: “Trust ports are independent statutory bodies, each governed by their own, unique statutes and controlled by a local independent board. There are no shareholders or owners, and any surplus is ploughed back into each port for the benefit of its stakeholders.
“The secretary of state for transport retains responsibility for appointing chairs and non-executive members to the boards of the small number of ports considered to be nationally significant.”
Rob Parsons is optimistic that the amount of fish landed at Newlyn in 2019 may be ‘better than expected’.
“This year will not be as productive as the period of 2017/2018, which was an exceptional period, when the cuttlefish boom was outstanding.
“So landings at Newlyn will almost certainly be down this year, but we started the first two quarters pretty strong, and we may expect the yearly fish landed to be between £20m and £25m, from which we derive our profits (2.5% landing dues).
“So far, this year has been a little more challenging; we had the possibility of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF), and that has been the case since 2016, but with the uncertainty of the port’s income post-Brexit, it is difficult to focus on which options of monies available are safe to take. We have to match-fund part of the grant-supported projects, and can only do so on the basis of a secure future.
“As an example, we have the opportunity to seek up to £6m from the ERDF – a financial input to redesign and provide new aspects to the harbour and its buildings – but we could not be certain of achieving our side of that deal after Brexit. Brexit may have a huge impact on the fishing industry of Newlyn.
“There are many aspects of plans such as the £6m ERDF – aspects that would greatly benefit both the harbour and its facilities. We are not losing sight of those aims, and will do everything we can to achieve them, but until Brexit is decided and we can see subsequent challenges to the financial running of Newlyn harbour, we cannot make any pledges.
“At the beginning of the year, we had several projects underway – completion of the new fishmarket, new landing facilities, new cranage facilities, new HIABs, new forklifts. Largely, they are complete, and we are trying to achieve as much improvement as we can.
“Further development of the new fishmarket, and further projects for the quayside, are ongoing. We will soon have a swipe-card system for the fuel supply to inshore boats, and that will be tendered out to another company, so there are plenty of improvements underway. Yes, so far 2019 has been challenging, but we are remaining very positive.
“On the possibility that Newlyn may soon have a second fish auction company, I want to dispel any rumour that we will take sides with any firms that may, in future, be involved with the auctioning of fish at Newlyn.
“We want to work with everyone involved with the auction of fish at Newlyn, and final templates to have a second auction are yet to be made. We are the commissioners of a trust port, and that, by its remit, must look towards passing the port on to forthcoming generations as a successful business. Having a second auction company is being considered to strengthen the business of Newlyn harbour.”
Calls for help from the Mission are rising
A 10% annual rise in Cornish fishermen seeking help from the Fishermen’s Mission is a trend based not only on accidents or bereavement, but on ‘changes in personal circumstances’, says Newlyn Mission superintendent Keith Dickson.
He said that the yearly increase has been going on for ‘five to six years’, and that much of that call for help comes from the inshore sector.
“But that doesn’t mean that we are not as active in the bigger boat sector, because we are – and unfortunately, this year there have been a few serious injuries on the big boats here.
“Right around Britain, the Mission isn’t there just for injuries or losses, but for times when personal circumstances may change. Changes that he or she may not have predicted can leave that person vulnerable.
“I believe that many reasons lie behind the rise in calls to the Mission – it is a multi-factor issue, and a lot of small factors have come into play at the same time. People are getting more willing to contact the Mission, and are more able to do so with social media. Fishermen now have more opportunity to see us. Since the Mission café on Newlyn North Pier was closed, we spend a lot more time around the ports, and it is paying off.”
Over the past few years, the Newlyn Mission has worked closely with projects to improve the health and health-awareness of fishermen – projects like the SeaFit programme, a joint initiative from the Fishermen’s Mission and the Seafarers’ Hospital Society to deliver sustainable improvements in the health and wellbeing of fishermen and their families. Funded by Seafarers UK, the SeaFit programme started in July 2018 and will run until the end of 2020.
Keith Dickson added that fishermen around Cornwall now have free access to physiotherapists, and there is also a fitness advisor to discuss job-related issues with fishermen.
He said, “The SeaFit project is there to raise awareness. It can offer free counselling services. At first, fishermen were sceptical of that, but they are realising how helpful it can be. And for some time now, we have been offering free dental health checks, a facility that visits many Westcountry ports. Basically, to be a fisherman you have to be fairly fit, and stay fit, and helping fishermen to remain fit is now an important aspect of the Mission.
“Plans for the future of the Newlyn Mission are to roll on the existing work that the Mission does. It’s rewarding to see the developments and improvements taking place at Newlyn harbour. Its new fishmarket and associated buildings are very positive moves. Newlyn is now a different port to the one when I first arrived; the quays are no longer cluttered, and are safer places.
“We are seeing a lot more crewmen from outside the UK arrive at Newlyn, many from the Philippines, but more are coming from Ghana to work on British boats. They are all good fishermen, we are told. That trend ties in well with the Fishermen’s Shack that we opened on Newlyn pier 18 months ago, somewhere that any fisherman can take a break. There’s coffee, tea and biscuits available, and the Shack has free WiFi, giving any fishermen a chance to contact home – many do so via Skype.
“From the electronic-fob lock on the Shack, we have records of how many fishermen use it, and so far, setting up the Fishermen’s Shack has been a worthwhile project. It is also used in conjunction with some of the Seafood Cornwall projects, and projects like the SeaFit programme.”
Newlyn fishmarket to become a work of art
What has a fishmarket got to do with art? Quite a lot, when you consider the new fishmarket at Newlyn.
By late winter, when you drive past the new, white-rendered outer walls of Newlyn’s new fishmarket, you may be less interested in fish vans than in the outstanding alloy etchings behind – etchings taken from pictures painted by the famous artist Henrietta Graham.
The words ‘Newlyn’ and ‘art’ are inseparable; Newlyn’s history is interweaved with art, particularly that of the Newlyn School – a group of artists who fled to Newlyn in the late 1800s to capture the life of its fishing industry, the toils of its fisher folk ashore, and the goings-on in a round-the-clock industry.
Such ‘schools’ of artists gathered in other countries too – ports and harbours around Brittany being favourites. Such artists fled from the grime of cities to less populated areas to capture the purity and harshness of those places.
One artist from the Newlyn School was Stanhope Forbes (1857, Dublin to 1947, Newlyn). His coveted work is now priceless, and I can remember Billy Stevenson (of W Stevenson & Sons) telling me how, in his childhood, he often saw an ‘old man scribbling pictures’ – that old man being Stanhope Forbes – who occasionally gave his scribbles to Billy. As a kid, he had no idea how valuable those scribbles would one day become, and like all kids, he didn’t keep them for long.
But scribbles turn to paintings, and with today’s technology, those paintings can be transferred to alloy etchings – so get the right artist and you can make a fishmarket look like a gallery – and that’s exactly what is happening at Newlyn.
Artist Henrietta Graham works in a studio overlooking Newlyn harbour. Once a net loft, that studio is shared by a time-served and traditionally trained artist, Tim Hall, whose work includes ‘Mousehole harbour’ (2004), ‘Boy looking for crabs with orange boat’ (2002), ‘Boat being painted, Newlyn’ (2004) – and many more.
Henrietta Graham was appointed by Newlyn Pier and Harbour Commissioners (NPHC) to spend time capturing images of Newlyn fishermen, its merchants, and all aspects of the industry. I recently had the pleasure of spending time watching her completing those paintings, and they are truly stunning.
To see the industry first-hand, Henrietta spent a full trip on the netter Karen of Ladram (skipper Sid Porter), and managed to do many sketches onboard.
She said: “Basically, it was NPHC choosing an artist who will show the real gritty side of the fishing industry, rather than choosing an artist who may produce pretty paintings of the harbour. I wanted to interpret the goings-on, and I work in the same studio as Tim Hall, an artist with years of experience of working around boats and harbours, who gave me references and guidance. I had spent the past 18 years painting work based on famous chefs.
“But fishermen and chefs are not so different – they both have a passion for their work, and they are massively anti-clock; they will work around the clock until the job is complete – so for me as a painter, the fishing industry just ‘fits’ with chefs – those industries never stop. And a painter is hardly ever aware when he or she is painting history, but hopefully, that’s what my work will become – a means of capturing an important part of Newlyn’s history.”
Henrietta Graham’s work is now in its final stages. It isn’t just of fishermen or merchants at work, but the shore side too, like engineers and welders maintaining the port’s beam trawler fleet.
New-look Ocean Pride
The Newlyn gill-netter Ocean Pride FH 24 recently had its aft shelterdeck raised, to ‘safely carry more gear’, explained part-owner Jonathan Hamilton.
Together with Peter Laity, he has run Ocean Pride for several years under their business partnership Ocean Pride Fishing Ltd, undertaking a wide range of netting in the Western Approaches and the Celtic Sea.
The decision to add height to the shelterdeck came after the owners compared their boat to a similar-sized vessel, Joy of Ladram E 22, which has somewhat more shelterdeck height than netters like Ajax PZ 36.
The work was carried out by local firm JT Fabrication and Engineering Ltd, located at Stable Hoppa Industrial Estate, Newlyn.
Ocean Pride is one of a fleet of successful netters that land prime-quality fish after fishing across neap tides.