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SPECIAL REPORT

By ROB DAVIES Daily Post 9 May 2011

COASTAL HERITAGE

OF the 441 fishing boats registered at Welsh ports, around a third are trailer-launched craft used for either bass angling or potting. Around 300 are kept afloat– of which half are primarily for potting, a quarter for fishing with nets, about 10 % for trawling and scalloping,10 % for shellfish dredging, whelking or shrimping, a few for bass angling, fishing charters or long lining. Many boats are under 10 metres (33 feet) and with good reason – above this length they become subject to strict quota restrictions and safety requirements.

There are relatively few Welsh fishing boats and part of the reason for this is that many of the ports now used

by fishing vessels were originally developed for the export of slate, stone and coal.

Historically, fishing has been used along Wales’s 750 miles of coastline as an additional local source of food.

The Industrial Revolution was partly responsible for this – more money could be made using the ports for shipping minerals and other raw materials. Resulting pollution also had an adverse effect.

Farming was the chief source of income and while catching herring was important, this declined dramatically after the1930s.

Since the end of the Second World War, the industrial demise of Welsh ports has meant that fishermen have been able to take advantage and move in.  Fortunes and fashions change, and sometimes where one door closes another will open. Take whelks, for instance, few British people these days are interested in what was once a traditional seaside treat. But in recent years, an increasing number of fishermen are putting out pots to catch them for export to the Far East, where they are very popular.

From the herring of Nefyn  to cockling in the River Dee, Rob Davies finds out about the history of our ports

PART of the charm of our coastline is the sight of the little fishing boats which bob up and down in bays, harbours and coves.

Most of us are probably content to take these vessels for granted, without pausing to think what stories they could tell.

But for retired airline pilot Stewart Lenton this isn’t enough. He wants to know those stories, while his wife Liz, who doesn’t care much for fishing boats, is intrigued by the coastline they belong to. Combine their two interests with a desire to research, write about and publish their findings, and the result is an unusual little book called: Fishing oats & Ports of Wales. It is filled with photographs taken by Stewart of the boats in question, tables of information, an “I Spy”

guide to every single fishing boat and a short history of their home ports.  Stewart and Liz trekked around the entire Welsh coast recording this information. On one level, it has an undoubted appeal to the maritime equivalent of train spotters, while people in the fishing industry will enjoy it and be intrigued to find that their little boat has been chronicled and photographed for posterity. For the rest of us there is the fun of taking a tour of our beautiful coastline and seeing if we can recognise any of those trawlers, potters, shrimpers, dredgers and whelkers – and finding out a bit more about our fishing heritage.   Before the tour begins, Liz provides an introduction to the Welsh fishing industry and its history.

She points out how places like Nefyn thrived on catches of herring in the 19th century, enjoying worldwide fame for both the quantity and quality netted. It was only a handful of places, like Nefyn, which took full commercial advantage of the abundance of the herring that travelled down the Welsh coast during the late summer and autumn months until the shoals stopped coming in the 1930s. Nefyn had a reputation as the “herring capital” with large, tasty fish, although in South Wales at any rate, many people preferred the flavour of the smaller Aberporth variety known as Sgadan.

These days, that industry has all but disappeared and in fact the number of boats registered with the Welsh Fisheries Office is surprisingly small at just 441, although Stewart points out that in Wales there has not been the kind of decline

seen in the rest of Britain. In his book, Stewart travels clockwise round the Welsh coast from Newport in the South to the River Dee in the North, covering those ports which still have fishing activity taking place. Stewart, who is from Plymouth,

but has family links to Deganwy in Conwy, had already produced a similar book chronicling the fishing boats along the Devon and Cornwall coast. The retired airline pilot spent 17 years in the RAF mainly doing photographic reconnaissance, before flying charter flights out of Gatwick for 22 years. He is not a fisherman himself but is an accomplished sailor and qualified yachtmaster. “The National Maritime Museum heard of my book (on Devon and

Cornwall) and said I had got a unique record of the fishing heritage in the two counties, you have got to publish

it. I couldn’t find a publisher to do it because it was an unknown,” says Stewart. “My wife and I formed a publishing

company and got the book published ourselves, they were very successful and we have sold nearly all the books we have produced.” As the couple had family links to Wales, the next logical step was to begin to research the Welsh coast.

“We thought let’s do Wales and make it interesting for tourists in Wales.

“The fishing communities will obviously find it interesting, but we think it will appeal to anybody and everybody, our first orders for the

Welsh fishing book came from Shetland and the second came from Ireland!

“It certainly taps into people’s enjoyment of seeing the boats moored in the harbour and people are always fascinated by what the letters mean as well – there are six registration ports for boats in Wales, including Beaumaris and Caernarfon.“They were the ports which were

historically important for fishing and the system hasn’t changed for 100 years.

“It has been great fun going round and we hope that people will have the same fun going round exploring the places we did.”

Does Stewart believe that there always be fishing boats bobbing about in Welsh harbours? “Yes I do. The fishing is mainly for

local consumption and that need will always be there. “And you have some of the best sources for crab and lobster off the Llyn peninsula and Anglesey.”

The use of small fishing boats is, he points out, a form of sustainable fishing in harmony with the environment. Also boats under 10 metres are subject to less red tape, although this is increasing. Sea fishing is mainly a part-time income to supplement farming, says Stewart Lenton. “Fishermen are always complaining but they are always buying new boats, money must be coming from somewhere, I don’t think there are many poor fishermen but there are some. “They are a fantastic crowd, they go out in all sorts of weathers and face health and safety issues unlike anywhere else. “Generally they are a happy lot, they love what they are doing but they get very frustrated by the increasing bureaucracy which is causing some fishermen to leave the industry.”

Pembrokeshire LIfe May Edition 2011

DAVE LINKIE FISHING NEWS 10 Dec 2010

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