It's not a great time to be an independent fisherman, but one charity is saving the ‘small guy’

With unpredictable weather, punishing quotas and sons who don’t want to fish, you’d assume the inshore fishermen of Lyme Bay might have a sinking feeling. But, as Jo Lamiri discovers, they are still buoyant – thanks to a charity giving them a platform for change

Tuesday 12 March 2019 17:41
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The 10 or so fishermen I spoke to in Lyme Bay – that breathtakingly beautiful arc of unspoilt coastline between Portland Bill and Start Point that straddles Dorset and Devon – all told the same story. Fishing is in their blood, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But they are, to a man, concerned about the future of fishing, choked like detritus in a net by the Brussels-imposed bureaucracy of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the looming uncertainty of Brexit.

Their contempt for quotas is intense. The quantity and type of fish the men can catch is texted to them arbitrarily by Defra on a weekly basis: break the rules and they will be fined by the fisheries inspector. After Brexit, their hope is that the UK can take back control of the quotas and fishing rights for the nation’s inshore fishermen. Matt Toms, a fisherman at West Bay who fishes up to 4-5 miles out, says: “I’m presuming we’ll take control out to 12 miles [at the moment foreign vessels come up to the six-mile mark]. But we can only go up to 12 miles from the French coast.” So much for entente cordiale.

These are the guys who take their “under-10s” (boats less than 10 metres) out to fish for crab, lobster, bass, cod and skate (ray) from West Bay, Lyme Regis, Beer and Axmouth – just as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. Yet these small boats still have to comply with quotas set for the big trawlers that scoop up all marine life in their wake, leaving the seabed smooth and devoid of its natural ecosystems.

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