Seafish fleet researcher Oscar Wilkie reports from East Anglia

Spending a few days in King’s Lynn recently, it was really gratifying to see a harbour so full of boats that it would have been difficult to fit any more in!

Even more pleasing was the fact that so many of the boats are crewed by local people, many of them younger than me. It was brilliant to hear multiple generations of fishers, in both King’s Lynn and Boston, expressing a strong attachment to this way of life and a lot of passion for their fishery.

The fleet of cockle and shrimp boats that head into the Wash with the tide on a daily basis (weather permitting, of course) are crewed almost solely by men from the towns. One skipper remarked that, on the whole, the area had never really struggled with recruitment into the industry.

It would be good to better understand the reasons why fishing has remained such a big part of the community here, when local enrolment is low in many other parts of the country.

The same skipper spoke frankly with me about an issue I’ve heard from lots of fishers around the UK: a feeling that fishermen are no longer valued by the public. It’s always sad to hear this sentiment, and I do sympathise. A growing and plausibly misdirected anger with global factory fishing and issues elsewhere doesn’t take into account the strict regulation and good practice in UK fishing.

Over the last 18 months, many vessel owners across the UK have been able to sell their product locally on the quayside whilst their usual markets were disrupted by Covid-19.

In lots of areas this has been a huge success, and many continue to do so now. This has no doubt helped local people appreciate their fishers even more. It was gratifying to hear that UK seafood consumption remains 10% higher than it was pre-Covid-19.

I think it’s also important that fishers play their part in ensuring the industry is portrayed positively to the public. After all, these are the same individuals who we need to encourage to buy more UK-caught seafood. Simple things like being enthusiastic if approached in the harbour by someone wanting to know more about your job, and ensuring that you don’t throw your litter in the sea, can go a long way.

Encouraging your harbour authority to take part in the Fishing for Litter campaign is another way of encouraging public pride in fishing. People like to see tidy harbours and evidence of fishers’ positive impacts on their workplace. With the industry under such a spotlight, I suspect that gestures like this will go a long way, and help people remember what a valuable and important part our fishing industry plays in UK life.

Oscar is a fleet researcher with Seafish, working on the 2021 fleet survey, which is taking place now, with Seafish’s fleet researchers visiting ports and harbours. If you are happy to take part, please email: fleet. survey@seafish.co.uk with your name, email and/or phone number and port of operation.

Find out more here.

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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