Fed-up fishermen take on Boris Johnson

Two local interest aspects in this article: the Carters involvement and the story of skipper Dominic Welsh of Newton Poppleford. Should Simon Jupp have joined the party? – Owl

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com  [Extract]

Fishing has been the lifeblood of the port of Brixham on the south Devon coast for hundreds of years. And the current generation working in the industry have a message for prime minister Boris Johnson – don’t let us down again.

The fish market at Brixham is the biggest in England by the value of catch sold and around 600 fishermen are based at the port, which has seen fishing boats in its naturally sheltered waters at the southern end of Tor Bay since the Middle Ages.

Some in the industry say fishing is thriving locally, despite Brexit. The merchants, who report extra costs and delays due to new rules on exports, have a different view. And for producers of molluscs like mussels it has been a disaster, with live exports to the EU effectively blocked. The deal is still a sore point with French fishermen, who are threatening to disrupt cross-Channel trade in protest at the refusal of some licences to fish in UK waters.

The government has set aside a £100million investment fund for the industry, and has promised to replace funding that came via the EU. Now the local fishermen, who number around 600, and the workers who depend on the industry, want to see Brixham land the money to safeguard the future of their historic industry.

The picturesque harbour, with its pirate ship and backdrop of rows multi-coloured houses, has become a hotspot for tourists, and locals say its popularity is closely linked to the town’s character as a fishing port, illustrated by the branch of the restaurant Rockfish next to the entrance to the fish market.

Fishermen were some of the strongest supporters of breaking away from the European Union, convinced by the potential to take back control of the UK’s waters, and harvest more of the fish in them. But many now see the government’s trade deal and fishing agreement with the EU as falling far short of what was promised.

The town is in the constituency of Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall, who is planning to join a trawler crew overnight this weekend to find out for himself what the job involves. He has been invited aboard the Georgina of Ladram, a beam trawler that is one of the fleet’s newest, built in 2019 and operated by Waterdance, a family owned company that is part of the Exeter-based Greendale Group.

Mr Mangnall has spoken out in support of the industry in Parliament, and wants to see a fishing school set up to educate the next generation. The MP’s press release about his fishing trip says more news is expected soon about the £100 million fisheries fund “which will be beneficial to the fishing communities in Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth.” He says the first part of the fund has recently been announced, with £24 million of investment available to fishing businesses across the UK to develop technology, trial new gear and support world-class research.

Fishing boat skipper Dominic Welsh at Brixham Harbour

Fishing boat skipper Dominic Welsh at Brixham Harbour (Image: Ed Oldfield/Devon Live)

The lack of an easy route into the industry was highlighted by young skipper and owner Dominic Welsh. The 31-year-old was working on the quayside at Brixham on his new boat the Southern Spirit, which represents a total investment of £1.7million.

The father-of-two, from Newton Poppleford, near Exmouth, said he left school at the age of 13, unable to read or write. He taught himself at sea, and bought his first licensed fishing boat at the age of 16. Mr Welsh has worked his way up through the industry, and is now close to the end of a £400,000 refit of his new vessel, employing 17 local workers. He is aiming to put to sea with his crew of four in around a month’s time. The Brixham-registered boat will fish in the seas around the UK, mainly for scallops, dover sole, plaice, turbot, brill and cuttlefish, mostly for export.

Mr Welsh said the industry has recovered from the setback of the pandemic, despite rules that are ‘strangling’ operators, with the area for fishing getting smaller and only a small increase in quotas in recent years, despite growing fish stocks and the promise of Brexit.

He regrets the government’s failure to secure sole fishing rights up to the 12-mile limit in British waters. But looking forward, he says the industry is thriving, and he wants to see it grow, with investment in education and training like the French are doing already. Mr Welsh said: “The industry is huge, and it would keep getting bigger, but there is not the manpower to run it.”……………….