This past weekend, I had the opportunity and privilege to experience first-hand what it is like to work on one of the Brixham trawlers. Given that I spend such a considerable amount of time in Westminster speaking on fish-related matters, I felt it was important to enhance my knowledge and understanding of what actually goes on at sea.
Leaving Brixham on the Georgina of Ladram, I can honestly say that I did not know what to expect. We cruised beyond the twelve-mile limit and then cast our nets. For the next twenty-four hours we trawled, drew in hauls, separated targeted fish from by-catch, then gutted and put our catch on ice. Under a routine of two hours on two hours off, I worked alongside some of the most extraordinarily highly skilled individuals. As is always the case, there is something unique and inspiring about watching those who have skills deploying them.
In-between our work, I listened and learned from the crew who spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing the fishing community. They are wide and varied, and believe it or not they aren’t all about Brexit.
For instance, finding local workers remains a constant worry. Once, our coastal communities hummed with a steady supply of future fishermen who were ready to leap aboard and take up the family profession. Today, oil skins and steel capped boots have been replaced by suits and ties and office blocks, and the desire to go to sea only touches a select few. Changing this attitude will be essential for retaining fishing communities within our coastal communities. The newly proposed fishing school that I have been working on with South Devon College offers the opportunity to help introduce young people to on board experiences and inform them of the extraordinary life that can be had working in our fishing fleets.
Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth can all rightly boast about their vibrant fishing fleets. They export across the world and they should be rightly proud that there is such demand for our fine British produce abroad. However, demand in the UK has always lagged far behind. While Covid has changed this to a small degree, it is vital that we supply more local fish to our domestic market. It seems perverse that the supermarkets near the above three towns rarely stock seafood caught in the area. Instead, it is bought from abroad, processed elsewhere and shipped over. Localism is about creating supply and demand from local sources, so just consider the impact this could have in helping raise awareness and appetite for our own locally caught produce.
Of course, recent events do come into play and the difficulties we are having with our French counterparts cast a shadow over some of the recent progress made. For the French and the British, our fishing communities are sacrosanct. It is therefore going to require some calm and sensible discussions. Fortunately, under the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), new Specialised Trade Committees are being set up to deal with different aspects of trade. The new Fisheries Committee provides that opportunity to discuss, debate and find solutions. All of which are very necessary at this time.
My short experience at sea gave me a newfound appreciation for the hard work and determination of our fishermen. I return to Westminster armed with better insight and understanding, and my own resolve to continue to speak up for the fishing sector. So much of the levelling up agenda applies to South Devon and if we can secure that investment for Brixham, it will lift all boats and help ensure that our fishing community is not just here today, but there tomorrow.