This month was quite exciting for me, because I got to go out on an actual fishing boat!! I’ve wanted to do this pretty much since I started my studies on fisheries, but never really had the chance to get out and do it – until now! Don’t get me wrong, I never thought it would be a walk in the park, but getting out and actually experiencing what fisher’s do was (I felt) so vital for me to experience given that I’m always writing and reading and researching fisheries!
So, on a cold and drizzly morning I woke up extra early (3.30am), donned my oilies and met Graeme Searle who fishes out from Plymouth to join him on one of his fishing trips out to sea. We expected to be out for the majority of the day, but actually ended up not being out for so long due to the weather and relatively low catches.
There was a point to me going out with them though. Graeme has recently teamed up with Caroline Bennett who is founder of Sole of Discretion, a new business aimed at sourcing and procuring fresh fish and shellfish from small scale fishers. It aims to source fish which has been caught with as little damage to the marine environment as possible, have contributed to the livelihood of small-scale fishers and their communities as well as providing fish that is fresh and delicious! The heart of the business is to do this in an ethical and transparent way as possible, whilst helping to tell the full story of how the fish gets from the sea to your dish!
A great business concept, and their first customer is Riverford (the company that delivers those lovely organic veg boxes to your doors). So a very exciting prospect for Graeme and other fishers in this new scheme to share their fish with new customers. A key theme for SoD and Riverford however is to be open with their customers (that’s you and me) about how the fish is caught and where it comes from. That’s where I come in, and soon other students at Exeter University! My job was to oversee the process that Graeme and his crew go through to catch their fish, and check that it is done in a clean, fair and responsible way.
During the trip I had to consider and check for things such as the stock status of each species they were catching and whether there was quota for it, assess the bycatch and wider environmental impact on the marine environment, evaluate the welfare of the fish as well as also try to find out how the skipper and crew felt about their trip and what they had caught. This information was all recorded on an assessment card which was drawn up for each species caught.
So, how did it go?! Well, I have to admit that my excitement soon wore off after the first hour when I succumbed to an awful case of sea sickness which lasted the whole trip, despite my previous sea faring experience! I blame the small boat and choppy waves! However, I was determined to carry on despite an offer from Graeme to turn back and drop me off (I must have looked rough!!). I’m so glad I did because despite the sea sickness I learnt so much and it was so interesting to find out how fishing actually happens (god, I sound so naive).
We steamed for quite a lot of the trip, and then did various hauls as well as shooting some new nets in locations where Graeme thought he could catch more fish. The actual hauls we got in weren’t too big unfortunately, which was thought primarily due to the nets not being left long enough. However, we still caught a range of species, from sole, cod and pollack, to ling and plaice as well as others. The quality of the fish itself was really great, and the size of them was a lot bigger than the ones I saw on my Cefas research trip in July. As soon as we had the fish on the deck and the nets hauled in, I was surprised to see the crew, Sean and Pete, almost immediately gut the majority of the fish. I didn’t think that would happen out at sea but it was good to see that it happened there!
We were also chased by seagulls for the majority of the trip, eager for any scraps to scoop up from us on the way. We also saw dolphins!! Which I was very excited about, and Graeme says he sees them most days – lucky him!
After a few hauls, it was decided to leave the other nets in for another day and shoot the ones we’d got in. We went to some wrecks and shot them, fish are attracted to these areas and so hopefully a few more fish were caught in the next few trips!
Overall I had a really great time and was an experience I would love to repeat, maybe minus the sea sickness!! I was really impressed with the way this crew and boat operated – the fish was of great quality, the actual methods and gear used seemed fair and responsible as far as I could tell and there was almost no by-catch (only one or two pouting and some crabs). I can also vouch that the fish was delicious after Graeme kindly gave me some of it. Yummy cooked up with this recipe (I used cod and was just as good).
Hopefully I’ll get to do a few more trips – I’m keen to get my sea legs and witness some bigger catches. So finally, a thank you to Graeme, Sean and Pete for putting up with me…!
Oh, and watch this space for more information about Sole of Discretion – a very exciting new venture to share with anyone that loves fresh fish which is responsibly caught! I’ll keep you updated!