Set up in 2002, for what was then a three-year fishing apprenticeship, Whitby Fishing School continues to buck the negative trend in the industry, helping send out a new generation of qualified trainees each year, reports Andy Read.

Fishing News discussed the course available with Paul Braithwaite, the school’s admin manager, whilst next door a class of young trainees, mainly from Yorkshire ports but also from as far afield as the Isle of Man, took their five-day watchkeeper’s course.

“The formal apprenticeship scheme ended, in favour of the diploma training we now offer,” Paul said, “as it became impossible to harmonise share fishing with apprenticeship training.

“Instead, we now offer a series of block training for young entrants to the industry, aged between 16 and 19. This is entirely free, and we can provide help during the training with accommodation and expenses, and also provide basic safety kit and waterproofs.

“We run four intakes a year, as well as a series of other training courses for established crew, mandatory safety courses and similar.

“We get a real mixture of trainees from fishing communities, who can generally undertake their work experience at sea working from their home address, and other trainees from elsewhere – even some inland areas – where we can also help find suitable berths and accommodation in Whitby.

“We run a diploma course – Level 2 Maritime Skills Diploma in Sea Fishing – over a 12-month period for trainees, including the four one-day mandatory courses, intermediate and advanced stability, the five-day engineering ticket, and safety awareness.

“Over the course of a year, trainees spend a total of three months based at the school, and nine months working on a vessel before they qualify. We try to keep classes down to a maximum of 12, to enable good one-to-one support.

“It’s always a balance between the number of trainees, the berths available and the amount of accommodation we have for students, with different factors limiting numbers on different occasions, but generally it has worked very well.

“The school also runs a similar two-year workboat apprenticeship, and we have to do a lot of fine-tuning to fit in the different courses.”

Based in the Whitby Fishermen’s Mission premises, a stone’s throw from Whitby fishmarket, the school also has an engineering workshop on the quay, for practical engineering training. Although it is UK government-funded, the well-equipped school also benefited from a large EU grant that provided IT equipment, including state-of-the-art navigation training software.

Paul added: “We are really grateful to the Mission for their support in hosting us. This is a real service to the industry, and one which is helping to ensure a future for the industry.”

The apprentices on the watchkeeping course were being tutored by retired merchant master mariner Captain Holtby. Interrupting their training for a brief chat, it was striking how their interests reflected the changes that the industry has seen over the last decade.

All but one of the trainees were working on shellfish boats – one a scalloper from the Isle of Man, and the rest potters from along the Yorkshire coast. Only a single trainee was hoping for a career in the whitefish sector.

Nevertheless, there was a tangible air of optimism for the future, even when we talked about the shellfish die-offs that are currently causing real hardship for the inshore vessels north of Whitby.

At a time when so many sectors of the industry are seeing real threats to their existence, it was great to see an optimistic vision of the future, and to imagine featuring the graduates of the school in Fishing News as they take on their own vessels in years to come.

If you are interested in any of the courses available, full details can be found here.

There are separate pages for the workboat apprenticeship, a two-year course that provides the equivalent of A-levels, at: and:

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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