Starting out under damp, dark skies or the crisp morning sun, Cornish fishermen go out to sea year-round on everything from cove boats to trawlers to bring us back the freshest and most seasonal catch.
Fishing is entwined in Cornwall’s roots; our culture, history, and traditions have been shaped by life at sea. Generations of families can be found on our boats, with young sons and daughters going out with their parents and grandfathers learning the ropes and getting ready to take on the business in the future.
As primary food producers, fishermen have a huge responsibility both in supplying seafood across the nation and as stewards of the ocean. Cornish fishermen work with scientists to ensure sustainability is at the heart of their methods, ultimately helping to secure stocks as well as securing a future for young people in the industry.
Andrew Stevens is a shellfisherman from Newlyn, working solo on his little Cygnus 19 to bring fresh lobsters back to port. His day begins by loading barrels of mackerel onto the boat and hauling the lobster pots on board, a routine that hasn’t changed for about 45 years.
After trying out a couple of other things, Andrew got into fishing at the age of 17 at his uncle’s suggestion. It was the mackerel boom in the 70s and pay was good – and he has been fishing ever since.
And does he enjoy it? ‘I wouldn’t do anything else.’
To Andrew, there is something particularly special about Cornish fish. As one of the only places in the UK surrounded by water, the fishing opportunities are like nothing else: ‘masses of fish come in here – all kinds of species.’
It’s not just the volume or diversity that makes it so appealing; the freshness and quality of Cornish fish is unbeatable. ‘Everybody wants Cornish fish, don’t they?’ Even Andrew’s contacts in London get their fish from the same places he lands his.
Sustainability is integral to Andrew’s business, who wants to make sure there are lobsters for the next generation to catch. Has worked with the hatchery for many years, bringing in female lobsters as well as releasing small ones back into the sea.
As Andrew moves out of potting season – summer, when most of the year’s work takes place – the pots are washed, mended and put away, and a transition period begins. The bad weather is an opportunity for preparation and renewal: with the painted name ‘Sarah Jean’, the only remaining trace of his boat from the 90s, watching him work, he cuts out the old nets, puts new ones in, and puts them away until they’re needed again.
‘In winter,’ Andrew says, ‘I do bits and pieces, catch fish now and then – might jump on a trawler for a few days.’ But then comes spring – spider crab season! These, which he catches by the tonne, are ‘so underrated – better than normal crab.’
For most shellfishermen, the next step involves going to a big buyer like Harvey’s. In other words, shellfish bypasses Newlyn Fish Market. You then land, weigh, and sell your catch for whatever Harvey’s price is that day, who then keep the shellfish in big tanks and export them to France, Spain, Portugal, and further afield so they remain as fresh as possible throughout the supply chain. If you’re fishing out of a smaller cove, Harvey’s will come to you.
Andrew sells his fish and shellfish direct to Sue Lucas at Passionate about Fish – the Fish Shop in Camberley. Andrew and Sue have an excellent relationship and Andrew will often travel up to Sue’s shop so her customers can meet the fishermen that landed their dinner.
However, there are others, like Andrew, who don’t sell their fish to Harvey’s. Selling directly to shops, restaurants, and even straight to customers on the quay allow them more freedom in pricing and direct relationships with consumers, as well as shortening the supply chain and making the fish at the end fresher.
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