Experienced fisherman Tony Delahunty reveals what it’s really like to be a fisherman in Britain today.
After more than 40 years as the skipper owner of a small boat fishing out of Selsey, a tight-knit community, I’ve seen the industry undergo a huge number of changes – but I also have a great deal of hope for the future.
Selsey’s fishing community has been established since Roman times and is famous for crabs, lobster and prawns. One of the old fishermen, who has since passed away, used to sell his prawns and lobsters to the Queen Mary liner at a princely sum of a guinea a pound – which shows how far things have come! All the boats at Selsey are 12 metres and under and some of the fishermen come from fishing families that go back generations. Even now my son Peter is an integral member of our small crew of three, along with Wayne who has been with me since he left school.
A typical day for us can vary a lot. We start anytime between 3:00am – 7:00am, depending on the weather and tide. I often ring my son to check he’s up and ready! As my boat is on an open sea mooring, we reach it from a tender, a boat that looks like a dinghy, launched from an exposed beach, which can certainly be a challenge. We fish up to an eight mile radius and the boat is usually at sea for six to eight hours per trip. The grounds where we fish for crab and lobster are made up of large rocky reefs with depths varying from 100 feet to drying out on a spring tide. The pots are left out 52 weeks of the year and are hauled as frequently as weather allows. Even though our main catch is crab and lobster, during the course of the year we also catch whelks, cuttlefish, bass, soles, plaice, skates and rays.
At Selsey we are committed to fishing sustainably and all the boats have voluntary fitted escape hatches to our pots. This allows juvenile crabs and lobster to escape, which cuts mortality to a minimum. After each string of pots is hauled any lobster and crabs that meet the minimum landing size are stored in bins with running sea water to avoid any stress and keep them in prime condition. When landed they are taken directly to market in a refrigerated van. I sell my shellfish to Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, a company I have dealt with for over 25 years. They market my product to local hotels and restaurants along the South Coast and some famous restaurants in London. Our product is fresh daily and sustainable with the bonus of a low carbon footprint, which is good news for me as I get a premium price for my catch.
I feel the future looks good for the next generation of fishermen in our area and across the UK and Europe. The number of stocks at Maximum Sustainable Yield (a key measure of sustainability) has now reached 36 – up from just two in 2003. The much maligned North Sea cod has now also been taken off the red ‘do not eat’ list by a key industry body, showing a vast improvement in the health of that stock. Among these and other key sustainability measures it shows the industry is acting positively to contribute to sustainability – and it’s having the right effect.