Seafish fleet researcher Rebecca Spain explores Sussex fishing history in Selsey

I began my journey as a Seafish fleet researcher in Sussex, and despite being so close to my hometown, it struck me how little I knew about the area and the fishing industry in England. Working as a researcher has been a great opportunity to better understand these things and get behind the scenes of the fishing community, which helps our coastline maintain its heritage and charm. A particularly interesting area of exploration was the seaside town of Selsey.

The area is home to some of the earliest evidence of fishing in England, including the remains of Anglo-Saxon fish traps and evidence of Bronze Age fishing settlements.

I found out that these fish traps acted like fences – oak posts with flexible wood wound between them to create a net. They worked with the tide, submerging in the rising water and trapping the fish as the tide retreated. This is even thought to be the origin for the phrase ‘kettle of fish’, as the Old English word ‘kiddle’ means ‘fish trap’.

During one of my trips around Selsey, I met Dan Langford (26, pictured above), a vessel owner with a wealth of enthusiasm about the industry and the local neighbourhood. Dan is a third-generation fisherman, following his father Richard and grandfather Michael. He began fishing at 15 on a 6m boat, and now owns the 12m vessel Rapid Return, which catches crab, lobster, prawns, whelks and fish.

Over the years, Dan’s hometown of Selsey has transformed from a small fishing village into a bustling seaside town, with much of its catch now sold internationally. Dan and his family promote their landings locally, supplying fresh seafood to a family-run business, Selsey Willows Seafood, which sells at markets and restaurants around the county.

I sampled some of the local products, with a lobster roll from another family-run business, Potters. Now I understand first-hand just why Selsey seafood has gained its formidable reputation!

Not just a place of the past, Selsey is looking towards its future, with fishers like Dan taking part in new initiatives to secure the future of the seafood industry. In March 2021, for example, a 300km2 inshore area stretching from Selsey to Brighton became the first kelp restoration project in the UK, regrowing the kelp forests that are vital nurseries of commercial fish species.

Rebecca is a fleet researcher with Seafish, working on the 2022 fleet survey. This is taking place now, with researchers visiting ports and harbours across the country. If you are happy to take part, please email: with your name, email and/or phone number and port of operation, or visit the Fleet Survey page on the Seafish website to find out when researchers will be in your area.

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



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