A diverse fleet

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Fisherman David Warwick explains why the diversity in the British fleet is one of the industry’s greatest strengths.

I’ve been in the industry for 27 years, the last 19 as the skipper of my own boat, the Valhalla. She’s 10.5 metres long and there’s just two of us in the crew. My catch is quite mixed, picking up cod and haddock, as well as whiting, lemon sole, plaice, cuttlefish, monkfish and squid. Fishing out of Mevagissey and landing our fish in Plymouth means that we regularly come into contact with boats of all sizes – and we can see just how valuable each type is to the industry.

You often hear people attacking big boats for being ‘unsustainable’ but the truth is it doesn’t matter how big your vessel is – sustainability is about how you fish, not size.

Of course there are quota shortages for small and inshore fishermen, but I’ve heard the argument for reallocating quota from big boats to boats such as mine, and put simply it just doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t be able to catch the shoals they target if I tried.

Give me quota for Atlanto-Scandian Herring and there’s not a chance in hell my little boat could safely make the trip to reach those grounds, let alone land enough to make it worth my while. Bigger boats are far more suited to fishing on the open sea and that’s the fact of the matter, having a big boat fleet is also really important when it comes to landing our fish. A lot of people don’t realise the scale of the port infrastructure required, and how many employees are needed, to efficiently process all the fish that are landed. These businesses rely on boats regularly landing a large volume of fish and if they aren’t getting that they tend to pack up and leave – which can really damage the businesses of small fishermen. This happened in Lowestoft in the mid-1990s – the large trawlers left and took the port facilities with them as they just couldn’t operate sustainably anymore. Fishermen like me were badly hit, with many having to switch ports or simply tie their boats up. We all need to work together to ensure that our industry is resilient – and diversity is one of the most important ways of doing this.

I am a proud British fisherman; you just have to look at the history of our fleets, and the quality and variety of fish we land to see that it sets us apart from many others. We’ve built that reputation for quality over the years and it’s great that being British still holds some weight in the international arena. I’d hate to see our fleet become divided and cut down, and our reputation along with it.

In over 25 years in the fishing industry I’ve seen a lot of changes and learnt a lot of lessons – and one thing still sticks out in my mind, big and small boats need each other for the UK to have a balanced fishing industry. Certain environmental groups claim to be supporting small scale fishermen against big boats but they clearly don’t understand the importance of the interdependence between different sectors of the British fleet.