Back in 2018, few would have believed that it would be the last time a fish festival filled the quays in Newlyn, reports Laurence Hartwell.

Previous Newlyn Fish Festivals have drawn thousands of visitors to the town.

The following year, the harbour undertook a major refurbishment of the ageing fishmarket, which meant that year’s festival was postponed. The following year, a previously unknown virus called Covid-19 saw the festival cancelled, and again in 2021. In 2022, circumstances continued to deprive the harbour of what had become one of the biggest events in Cornwall during the summer season.

More recent changes have seen the arrival of a new harbour master, and the local industry, despite lockdowns, Covid, fuel prices and Brexit uncertainties, feels it has something to celebrate. In the last few years the port has seen an influx of new boats and builds, including the largest new-build trawler in England. With more positivity generally, a new fish festival seems timely.

On 5 December, an inaugural meeting of festival-minded souls came together at the Argoe fish restaurant in Newlyn and explored a wide range of ideas – with unanimous agreement that the festival should return.

Festival visitors watch Duncan Lucas of Passionate About Fish at work.

Newlyn Pier and Harbour Commissioners indicated that the harbour will do everything it can to support a reinstated festival, mindful of recent changes that may affect access to quays and market buildings as the harbour continues to address the needs of its more modern fleet.

Rather than aim for a one-day August bank holiday event, discussions focused on the idea of a festival spread over a number of days, possibly a week, in late summer or early autumn.

In recent years, many felt that the festival had lost its focus and that not enough was made of the incredibly diverse range of industry and enterprise, including the arts, that make Newlyn the unique fishing community it is. As a result, it is proposed that the festival consists of many small events in venues or in the harbour to give local organisations, businesses and individuals a chance to stage their own celebration of the industry and their role within it.

For example, how many people know that for over 100 years every piece of navigational chart data the world over emanated from a tiny device under Newlyn’s lighthouse at the end of the South Pier, or that the craft of copper beating, initially started to keep wayward young fishing boys gainfully employed, continues to this day?

It was also felt that more could be done to draw young people to the industry through the festival by showcasing it as a highly skilled and competitive vocational choice – not many people appreciate that a full skipper’s ticket is equivalent to a post-degree-level qualification. Penwith, the local further education college, will have a big part to play, and Seafood Cornwall Training has much to celebrate with the introduction of its Fishing Apprenticeship.

It was also suggested that it might be more realistic to run the festival every two years, alternating with the Mousehole Sea, Salts and Sail festival – but that this might also allow for a much smaller festival every other year to celebrate Cornwall’s unique sardine fishery.

One thing’s for certain: a new festival will be a chance for everyone in the fishing community of Newlyn to celebrate their part in the industry and to share it with others.

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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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