January 2012

Some of you might already know that Simon and I have recently returned home to Portscatho after two years away sailing on our gaff cutter Planet to Greece and back. Since we’ve been home we’ve started an exciting new project, which Roseland Online has been kind enough to support, by offering us this monthly space to tell you our news and update you on our plans. We believe that it is possible to make a living from fishing under sail from Portscatho in a small boat, using sustainable methods and selling the catch locally. While in the past the harbour in the village was filled with fishing boats, today the situation is very different, and Portscatho is far from alone in this. Most harbours like ours have a fraction of the fishing fleet they used to shelter, if there is still a fleet at all. The rising costs of fuel are partly responsible, as are the stifling quotas and legislation that face Britain’s inshore fishing fleet. By choosing to fish under sail or oar from a boat under ten metres in length, in the ‘unpowered’ category, it is possible not only to avoid many of these problems, but also to solve some of the sustainability and environmental issues posed by intensive modern fishing methods.

Simon’s background is in boat design, so we’ve decided after much deliberation to purpose design and build our own boat this winter, in order to start fishing by the summer. We have already spent many hours reading, researching and talking to people with fishing experience and expertise. We have been trying to clarify the legislation surrounding fishing under sail, and we have completed two industry training courses in fish filleting and fish mongering. Simon has very nearly finished his design, and we will be testing a model and checking it satisfies safety criteria before beginning the build in the next few weeks. Once we’re up and running, we are hoping to supply local people and businesses with our sail-caught fish and shellfish, aiming to sell our catch as freshly and as close to home as possible.

There’s only one small problem. We don’t know how to fish. Or at least, not in the way we are planning to. We’ve fished from our boat and gone out with friends a few times. I used to have an excellent success rate with a crab line from the pontoon of the Pandora, but then so did everyone. We both know how to handle boats and how to sail and we are well aware of the realities of spending all day out on the water, even when it’s raining and cold. But neither of us has any experience of commercial fishing. So, over the next few weeks and months we have a lot to learn. With this in mind, we have called our project ‘Teach a Man to Fish’, after the saying that goes: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Our point is that this is not something we are going to do for a few weeks and then give up on. It is a long term project, and something which we think could make a difference. Certainly to us, and we hope to other people as well. Furthermore, this is a learning curve, and likely to be a steep one too. There’s a lot to do before you’ll be able to walk down to the porth and buy fish from the boat you’ve seen out sailing in the bay. It’s easy to get excited about new starts and decisions at this time of year. Most New Years the first half of my list of resolutions is made up of the same five or six things I try to achieve each year. Further down the list gets increasingly unlikely and by the end we’re into the realms of clear out garage and weed garden regularly. These things will never happen. Unless you’re honest with yourself, there’s something about New Year that makes you plan ahead unrealistically, and this was very much in my mind when I sat down to write this first instalment. It’s all very well telling you all now about how excited we are about our plans and how we think it can work really well. Or writing an exciting update next month or the month after with a list of all the things we’ve achieved, but what about the times when it hasn’t gone so well? Because, if you’ll excuse the dreadful cliché, it won’t always be plain sailing.

I came across an article the other day that reckoned the key to a successful New Year’s resolution is to be honest, keep track of your progress, tell people what you are doing and enlist their help. So we promise to keep you honestly updated with Teach a Man to Fish here, and we hope you’ll come and see us here each month and read about how we’re getting on. We’ve also got a blog at http://teachmanfish.wordpress.com and you can follow us there for more frequent updates from us and on Twitter at @teachmanfish. If that’s not your thing, then get in touch with us at teachmanfish@gmail.com or call us on 01872 580632. We’d love to hear from you all with your ideas and advice. Now, back to that list…

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