The son of a fisherman, Buck started fishing at around the age of six, in a little punt his dad bought him. Growing up on the harbour in Newquay, he knew from an early age he wanted to fish. “I was going to be a fisherman,” he says. “That was always set in stone.”
Little surprise then, when at fifteen he went to sea full-time, working on different boats locally, before heading off on the bigger boats for a few years, fishing from different ports around Britain, until the lure of the Cornish coast called him back in his late teens to work on a local boat – the same one, as it turned out, he would buy not long after and fish for most of his twenties.
“Then I bought a bigger boat,” says Buck. He fished her from Brixham mostly, until dwindling quotas, crewing difficulties, and the draw of home again convinced him to sell up, buy a smaller boat and return to his Cornish roots around six years ago. Was it the right move? “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he says.
Coming home to Newquay, fishing and landing crab and lobster locally means more time with his family – Buck’s fourteen-year-old son, Freddie, is as keen on fishing as his dad and will one day take “the boat side of it over.” “He’s been involved for quite a while,” the Cornish fisherman explains, not just at sea but onshore too, and of that Buck—convinced there’s no better way of learning life than going out and doing it—is quite happy.
And why wouldn’t he be? Even in the face of today’s challenges (or maybe in spite of them?), fishing for Buck and his family is good. “It’s going from strength to strength all the time”.
While most of the fish and shellfish caught by British fishermen is exported, largely to the EU, spurred by the havoc wreaked by the global pandemic on European seafood markets which essentially saw the main export market for British seafood shut overnight, Buck sells his fresh Cornish produce directly, and domestically.
Altering his family’s business model entirely in response to the pandemic, Buck, like others, responded by working to sell more of his catch locally, direct from the boat, relying on word-of-mouth initially, and then social media. “We started a Facebook page and basically from there it just snowballed,” he says.
It wasn’t long before they were getting calls from as far away as South West London. These days, with some thirty regular customers—varying from individual households to high-end sellers, supplying Michelin star restaurants—their fresh Cornish produce can be found on tables around Britain.
Not just selling, Buck and his family have turned their hands (yes, quite literally) to processing their crabs themselves, which has proven hugely popular. “Because it’s so easy. You fancy a crab salad or a linguine tonight, you come and pick a tub up and you go home and make it.” All of their crab sales are now direct, whilst before the pandemic, about 90 per cent were going to France. For lobster, the story was much the same.
Holidaymakers at home can also enjoy a taste of Becketts’ delicious fresh seafood at the family’s pop-up at Newquay Harbour. Alongside Buck’s wife, Nicola, who does a lot of the onshore side of the work, their daughter Ellie helps with this side of the business. They employ another girl to help during the summer too. Their bestseller? Lobster on a brioche roll. The crab salad and crab sandwich are both firm favourites too.
From price-takers to price-makers…. to keep up with their expanding market, alongside what’s caught on his own boat, Buck buys lobsters and crabs from other local fishermen too, always paying a premium. Does it matter that their produce is local? For restaurants certainly, says Buck. They want to be able to tell their customers where their seafood was caught.
Beyond markets, and on the question of sustainability, with a son coming up into the sector, ensuring stock for the future is crucial for the Newquay fisherman, who explains that regarding shellfish, as with other fish, there are strict rules as to what you can and can’t catch. For example, there are rules concerning the size of crabs and lobster you can keep.
Berried hens (i.e., female lobsters carrying eggs) can’t be landed and must be returned to the sea. When a fisherman does one, they cut a V shape into her tail before putting her back. The next fisherman to take her up will then know she’s breeding and put her back, berries or otherwise. “We v-notch a lot of females,” says Buck. They also help with stocking the National Lobster Hatchery at Padstow.
For the Newquay fisherman, it’s all about the longer-term picture. “I want my son to be able to come here and be able to fish away with plenty of lobsters still here because we’ve looked after it,” he says, before concluding that for most fishermen, it’s just the same!
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