«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
Since I’ve stopped fishing, men have come to me and they want to buy my book, and one of them offered me two thousand pounds, and I said I’ll think about that. Now you could make...one man on his own, an able man could make four hundred pound a day. Right? An unable man two hundred and fifty. If he’s got the right boat. And I thought, and I asked my wife, should we sell the book. And she said “That’s your lifetime experience, all those fishes and those bits of ground have given you a good living all these years, your selling yourself. Do you want to do that?” And I thought about it and I thought, no I don’t. So I won’t sell it now. They were livid. “Oh well we need that ground.” “Well you go out and find it the same as I did”. ‘Cause what’s happened now, because they haven’t got the boats to go there, they’re fishing in this area again [indicating with a quick sketch an area close to harbour]. But everybody’s doing it. Now in here, live the immature fish. They’re about that big. They’re wiping them out and they can’t make a living. So they need this book, which is what’s out here, where the mature fish live. But I know they will go there and kill it because they’ve done that inside all ready. But also, my nearest ground they can reach is twelve miles. That’s twice the distance they’re used to. It would take them at least two and a half hours to reach it and that’s the first three places.
TM: So why don’t others have the same kind of boat that you did, why haven’t others followed suit? Is there just not the money?
PP: Boats are expensive now. They can get one looking like mine, with a license for about a hundred thousand pounds. That’s what it’s going to cost you. You can go smaller and get away with fifty thousand but you’ve lost all the reliability, the safety, and if you're gonna lay out fifty thousand you don’t know where to go. I mean, I could have said to you, not being rude, “there’s my boat. Go out there and catch fish.” You wouldn’t know where the bloody hell to go to.” And a lot of these men as I say, are not fishermen. So they’ll never find it. So that was my decision. And it’s not being bigheaded, it’s just a fact of life. I had to learn, and because when I started to learn I’d been a diver, I got no help, I was an outsider – no one would give me a job, I’d never worked on another man’s boat, couldn’t get a job! It’s the hardest profession to get into actually, it’s very closed. And being a foreigner and then having been a diver.
Ooh no, no, no.
There are two issues in this interview extract I want to highlight. The first is Peter’s and his wife’s notion of his logbook as knowledge/property that is inalienable. Peter also admitted to regretting that he had no young protégée to whom to pass on his boat and experience, echoing the ‘old boys’ of Penberth and their guardedness about sharing the secrets of their trade until Peter was accepted. The second issue is the underlying moral view on the relationship between expertise and resource-use (that doing a job well, also implied a subtle conservation ethic) and that this knowledge (in this case to expand fishing range) had to be earned, both to protect the resource and the safety of other fishermen. I shall return to these issues after highlighting some further material, from the second of my life histories, on the subject of innovation.
Innovation (4) David Stevens and son The snippets of recollection in the Stevens’ interview regarding life on board the boats and on the shore richly evoked a way of life when fishing was still an important industry at St Ives centred around the fishing quarter, the Isle, the harbour and the bay, including the patterns of male association as well as home life. However it is the sense of an inheritance of a ‘work ethic’ that I want to highlight and indeed which was the thread woven throughout their story about how the family has adapted over time. ‘Work ethic’ is understood both as a moral value, as well as in terms of abilities and skills (such as being good with one’s hands) that allows for selfsufficiency, thrift and innovation. Whilst David and his sons have embraced new forms of technology to which the grandfather may have been more resistant, too, they continue to place value on practices like making and mending (showing how notions of craftsmanship have been expanded and elaborated) as well as the notion of working together as a family.
In the early 1990s, by which time David (Junior) had left school and was working on the first of their boats called Crystal Sea with his father, operating out of Newlyn harbour, the fishing industry was in a difficult period – prices were low and there was a lot of competition and not much fish coming in. ‘You was getting to a time when you realised the fleet was too large, for the amount of [fish] and there too many boats working’ David (Junior) said. During and since this time there have been several big EU decommissioning schemes and a lot of fishermen have left the industry. David (Junior) explained that by this period fishermen had begun to specialise a lot more and no longer had the flexibility to switch between fisheries as they had during his father’s time. Such specialisation was reinforced in 1999 when Fixed Quota Allocations (FQAs) formally came into operation. These were allocated to individual vessels on the basis of their track fishing record between 1994 and
1996. The fishing fleet (in terms of number of boats and men employed) has reduced by about a third of what it was in 1990. From 2000, David Stevens and his two sons David and Alec decided to invest in buying quota that was freed up by vessels leaving the industry and eventually they also invested in a new boat. They brought the next Crystal Sea second-hand for £600,000 and their annual quota license is worth £500,000.
D(J):...One of the advantages we’ve had is obviously, Dad had the two of us, me and Alec, two brothers and that’s been a huge advantage by keeping a larger boat, that’s how we’ve been able to do it, because you’ve had to spread your skill base, because you haven’t had time on your own to do it. So the one-man bands have really struggled. And they got out as well. ‘Cause they didn’t have the family manpower to keep that boat running. So my brother he’s very good at engineering, and I keep an eye on the nets, and make sure they’re all up to date, and Dad, you know, he’s had a lot of experience and he helps who ever needs help. If Alec needs help with the engines you help there, and if I need help with the nets… Dad’s ashore now full-time, has been for four or five years now, haven’t you?
D(S): Five years.
D(J): But we need someone ashore now. That’s all part of fishing now. It’s become so professional and so business orientated, that you need a shore-person now I’m sure, who’s managing, getting the nets, getting the food for us, organizing the ice...
D(S): Well quota issues take up a lot of time.
D(J): Yeah, you know, your politics side of fishing. And we all lend a hand, and we can all multi-task, you know if one of us isn’t there we can all do each other’s jobs but, you know, we all sort of specialize in what we can. And Alec’s very good at engineering and he skippers the boat, I skipper the boat and I’m good with nets, you know, and all that we’ve learnt from my Dad.
During the most difficult period, for five / six years, the family made their own nets. If they were not at sea during wintertime they would put in a day’s work in their store making up the trawls. On the old Crystal Sea they worked the boat threehanded and they had one extra crewman so each worked three weeks at sea, one week off; so the boat could be at sea all the time bar landing and during very poor weather. On the new boat there are six crew, four of whom go to sea and two have a trip off. David, Alec and another crewmember (originally from North East England) do two weeks on, one week off and they employ three Latvians who do six weeks on, three weeks off. The Stevens family pay for their flights home, and the reason they say they employ Latvians is not wages – ‘we pay them the same as us’ – but their work ethic. They say they cannot find local youngsters to do two weeks on, one week off. David (Senior) described an efficient operation – the boat will land, the food, ice, fuel supplies will be ready, the catch will be unloaded into the back of a lorry and within two hours the boat will be away again.
David (Junior) described how they’d specialised in trawling and taken it on further since his father’s time, who was a ‘top trawler’ even then. Asked what makes a ‘top trawler’, the father and son used the words, ‘hard work’, ‘persistence’, ‘patience’, and ‘willingness to experiment’. David (Senior) described how because his father had been so successful on the Great lines, he wanted to do something different and make his own mark. He’d tried netting but didn’t like it.
TM: What didn’t you like about that then?
D(S): I’ll tell you in a minute. Margaret was down the beach with them [his sons].
There wasn’t no age in them at that time. And it must have been July/August month, Margaret was down Carbis Bay beach, so I come down, and I said what do you think about borrowing a bit of extra money and having these trawls made. “Well if you think it’s the right thing to do, do it.” So we had these trawls made, two of them with fourteen-inch hoppers, rigged the boat back up for trawling and we started opening the hard ground. And we never looked back since.
D(J): I think with the netting, I think it would be fair to say, you couldn’t shine could you. Because anyone can make money out of it, it was more about luck. You get your nets in the right place at the right time, you see with nets, you put your nets down, fish swim into them. Now if you just happen to hit the shoal, you could shoot, Dad could shoot his net just down by that tree, and I could shoot mine that way, and if the shoal of fish decided to swim hundred metres further south, he’d have them and I wouldn’t.
And there was no element, with netting, it’s got there more now, but at that time there was no skill to it, it was just plaster the place with nets, and it was luck of the draw.
You know, and you couldn’t, you couldn’t go out and say I’m gonna be top dog because I’m gonna put that much into it.
D(S): There was no expertise in it.
D(J): Yeah, it was just too easy. And that’s one of the things that destroyed, a lot of the boats that went were netters. Because they had such a boom time, and so many boats if you like not quite so professional fishermen were in, if you like, fishing, and ‘cause I’ve never seen such a bunch of lunatics [laughing].
D(J): Yeah, yeah. Nothing wrong with them, nice chaps, but it was too easy. And these gill-nets came along, they was very cheap to produce, and they were annihilating the stocks.
D(S): It made money for people that wouldn’t have made money doing something else.
D(J): And they got out when it got hard, cause they didn’t know how to do it. When it come hard, when there weren’t a lot of fish around, you had to use you ingenuity, you had to use your wits, you had to use what you had learnt, or been passed on, everything, everything you had to use, you know, it all came into play. You’ll never, I’m hoping, you’ll never see a time [again] when it... it really honed it down. Only the best ones survived, believe me. Because no one else could have survived, they had to be practically-minded for their boats, they got to be business-minded, they got to be politically motivated because they’ve got to stand up for the industry. We’ve been attacked from all sides. Natural England and all this lot. But most of all they’ve got to have a good fishing brain on them, because, you know, you have to now.
There are several thematic strands here I would like to highlight:
1. The way that fishing skill-sets have become more complex and diversified;
2. The way this family rationalise the contraction of the fleet and their own success under those circumstances, involving the utilisation of this full range of skills – those abilities passed down, learnt from an early age and new skills acquired;
3. The attitude towards gill-netting associated with a lower class of fishermen and ‘annihilating the stocks’.
To pause for the moment on this last theme in particular, it is not uncommon for fishers to say that their method is the best, or the most technically difficult, the most sustainable, etc. However Ota and Just (2008) conducted an anthropological study of inshore fishing in Kent and they also state that trawling is more technically difficult to learn then netting and it’s the latter method that attracts people from ‘outside’ i.e.
from non-fishing backgrounds who have decided to change their career and try something a bit different. Also I met a variety of fishermen from different backgrounds – trawling, line fishing, potting – who all expressed concern about the impact of gill-netting. Fishermen’s views on this contrast sharply with the frequent bias in environmentalist media reports that gloss netting as ‘low impact’ and trawling as ‘high impact’ without an adequate understanding of what either entails.
The similarity between the narrative of the father and son and that of Peter Pearman regarding gaining the knowledge to expand his fishing range and spread his fishing effort, is striking. What they have in common is, if not a conservation ethic, then at least a view that connects legitimate resource-use to a high level of expertise.
This observation is also relevant to the other two themes identified in the last extract: the diversification/evolution of skill-sets and the rationalisation of success.