Fishermen in Beer ask: ‘where have all the fish gone?’
PUBLISHED: 08:17 03 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:17 03 May 2018
Everyone who knows Beer and knows the sea agrees. There aren’t as many fish as there used to be.
“I could practically walk across them,” Peter Bartlett joked. The 86-year-old spent his whole working life as a fisherman. “I could go to Portland and back and catch them both ways, there seemed to be that many.”
He started work in a local bakery at the age of 11 during the Second World War but ‘helped himself’ to his father’s rowing boat at the age of 12. He would row to Branscombe Head to go fishing. He got his first proper fishing boat in 1949. It was a hard life, out in all weathers, but one that suited him.
“Ninety per cent of my living was fishing. There were times when I would do anything if the sea was rough. If somebody wanted a job and it would earn me a pound I’d do it.
“I liked being my own boss. I was born free. It’s sad to see how it’s gone,” he said.
His son, Simon Bartlett of Beer Self Drive Boats, agreed there had been a sharp decline: “The last two summers, the mackerel have not been like they should be.”
And it’s not just mackerel. Crab fisherman, Kim Aplin, said: “I’ve been fishing since 1981 and I have never known the crabbing as bad as this.”
He owns a 25-foot crabber and supplies local businesses.
“It’s not really worth going every day because we’re wasting fuel and bait. Just trying to keep the customers happy. It’s down by at least a half, no, more like three quarters, from about six months ago,” he said.
Fishermen are complaining all along the south west coast. Theories abound: over-fishing, water temperature after the late cold spell, even ‘the wrong sort of plankton’.
“I don’t know what the reason is. It wasn’t brilliant in September. Normally we do quite well up to Christmas. But now it’s gone from bad to worse,” Kim said.
Plymouth University has been carrying out research off the coast of Devon and Dorset for the last ten years. They have observed the effects of bottom-towed fishing and the storms a few years ago.