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«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»

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David Stevens and his son described how through applying the full range of their abilities – inherited and improvised, they were able to build up a pool of quota whilst other vessels ‘went to the wall’. In their view quotas have been a necessary course to securing the resource, reducing the fleet and making fishing operations more efficient. I questioned them further on their views on the quota system and particularly on the likely outcome that the reformed CFP in 2013 will bring in some form of Individual Transferable Quota system (ITQS) in which quotas will be fully privatised rights tradable on an open market.

D(J): It’s inevitable. Natural economics will take its course. You can’t manipulate it.

D(S): There’s a boat in Newlyn now, laid up, not going to sea. What happened is that in the past two year that owner had sold his quota, and us as a family and the P.O brought all that quota in the last two years. Now that boat can’t go to sea, she’s got to be sold.

D(S): It’s not that we’ve done anything wrong, you know, we knew it would happen, that’s just business, you know, and that’s what it’s turned into.

D(S): See we’re in ITQS now, all in but name.

Whilst seeing tradable quotas as a necessary and ‘natural’ development in order for the fishing industry to ‘take hold’ of the resource and manage it efficiently, the Stevens have also been vocal in their support for ‘community quotas’ and David (Junior) is a board member of the Duchy Fish Quota Company. Through charitable donations and support from the fishing industry and beyond, this organisation buys quota from Cornish boats leaving the industry to lease out on favourable terms to young fishermen who otherwise would not be able to afford the cost of a buying quota to start a career in fishing. They almost secured a couple of million pounds from the county council for this cause but were dismayed when a complaint was made to the European Commission which subsequently opposed the move on the grounds of ‘unfair competition’.

D(J): I think the problem is, is when you’re in fishing you understand it, but you try explaining this to people outside of it, they get this concept, I mean you’ll understand it, but the community if they don’t buy this quota, it’s like an upside down pyramid.

You got to own quota, that’s at the bottom, everything else will come from it now.

You know, you can bring young fishermen in, they’ll get boats, if they’ve got boats, there’s people there to buy it, there’s people in the community working and it all comes from that, they got to understand if this country does not go down the road of making sure the community have quota then we won’t have a fishing industry. It will end up with big companies and the only people that are going to buy out big companies are bigger companies.

The fact that there has been so much change in Cornish fishing in the twentieth century, and the emphasis on survival and adaptation in the narratives of my interviewees, underlines the way that marginality continues to be a consciously defining condition of their skills and their identity, both rooted in patterns of male association and kinship-supported work (including woman’s labour in activities both within and outside the household). Pratis (1980) has argued that such persistent cultural systems, widely regarded as ‘traditional’ have been depended on by maritime communities in the North Atlantic along with other occupational enclaves such as mining, logging and docking, to support livelihoods whose vulnerability is actually an outcome of exposure to modern markets. Being dependent on such systems, as Newby has said of the farming way of life (1978), is an aspect of social as well as geographical distance and explains why the father and his son felt they had more in common with the blue-collar workers of mid-twentieth century Britain, than with the white-collar workers of today. This is how David Stevens (Senior)

described his feeling about it:

If you take this country after the war, we still had a big manufacturing base. Now most of the people that were working then, whether you was building a house, whether you was working in a factory, whether you was fishing, farming, it was a lot of manual labour. Now when that man finished his work in the factory, he was glad to go home, see his family, wash and change and have his tea, sit down with the family.

If you look at life now...when do they come home? The children are at nursery, the wife is working, the husband’s working, they get back home, they see the kids put to bed possibly, maybe the kids not put to bed, they go away for three holidays a year and they think they’re living a family life. And that’s how the world has changed.

That also makes a difference in how they think about farming, fishing. But when the man was working in the factory and he was working hard to keep his family, he had more in common with us. Nowadays, all these people that are living in the big cities have got nothing in common with us. And they’ve had it too easy, in my book.

The difference the father and son perceive in ways of knowing that inform and shape decisions in fishing industry management issues is about particular ways of doing, acting, working, and learning, that are rooted in a historical experience of a communal way of life, but no longer dependent on it. It is a way of life that as a result of rural change is now independent of such forms of collectivity but remains tied to family relations including role models, struggle for status and masterapprentice relationships. Furthermore the association of the skills thus described with what are commonly thought of as ‘traditional’ patterns of kinship and male association and the real and imagined distance from other ways of life, shows marginality to be an essential part of its constitution. The condition of marginality is regarded by this father and son not as a thing to be overcome but rather to be allowed to develop to its full potential, i.e. fisheries that stand on their own, not outside of the influence of public expectations but with fishermen able to develop and implement them in their own way. Furthermore they demonstrate a perspective in which some of the negative aspects of marginality (such as vulnerability to fluctuations in nature and markets, and lack of political influence) can be ameliorated by allowing local skills and successes to provide a model for leadership and property that can decentre more hegemonic political and economic processes and therefore be of greater benefit to rural communities.


There is a lot of mystification surrounding the subject of ‘the art of fishing’, and of farming and other such forms of ‘traditional’ labour – the romantic assumption that expertise in these areas arises from a wholly unconscious, tacit state of ‘being in tune’ with the natural environment. The case studies examined above suggest there is a high level of ecological knowledge at work; however this is arrived at not by mystical intuition but through study, experimentation, observation, keeping records, and through integrating into their methods new technologies and scientific knowledge. That said, even Stefan Glinski acknowledged that after he has attained all the technical knowledge he can to predict when the pilchards would come, in the end, he ‘just knew’ and couldn’t really explain how. Similarly to Peter Pearman, David Stevens (Junior) mentioned using sea diaries to record patterns in catches, tides, lunar cycles etc and to later devise strategies for which fishing grounds to use at different times of year. However he also used the word ‘instinct’ a lot. Perhaps in the end, having that something ‘extra’ does help, but it is not necessarily something that you have to be ‘born’ with. What these examples do draw attention to is the level of practical knowledge as well as commitment that thrives within these contexts of relatively small-scale (or at least independent) enterprise and helps to explain the adaptability, resilience and optimism that Abernethy et al (2010) found in the independent boat-owning section of the fleet in contrast to the company section.

Therefore I am making a case for the importance of practices, attitudes, and dispositions that I collectively term craft, and illustrated by the preceding examples

suggest that craft in fishing includes the following:

1. Physical action requiring dexterity and a high-level of hand-eye coordination, learnt through many hours of practice and observation rather than formal instruction

2. A make-shift, adapt to purpose, bricolage approach

3. A ‘willingness to experiment’

4. Good seamanship and a high degree of ecological knowledge

5. Combinations of tacit and explicit knowledge

6. High ability to work with one’s hands – making, mending and thriftiness

7. Pride in quality, materials, tools, abilities I am also suggesting that there may be a correspondence between craftsmanship (in this broad sense) and economic organisation i.e. that it is variable according to scale and the role of kinship support networks etc. However the examples allow us to refine this notion and to acknowledge that the transmission of practical knowledge and of ‘the art of fishing’ is not dependent on a bounded village structure (and may even thrive outside of it) but is partially dependent on communal contexts (whether family, communities of practice or sites of habitus). However this issue raises ambivalences and tensions in the narratives: between breaking away, following individual initiative etc, and maintaining collective environments for the reproduction of skills; and between the ‘outsider’ as innovator, leader or reviver of ‘old’ practices and the outsider as ‘a lower class of fisherman’ or the migrant that may return ‘home’ along with skills learnt.

I have also considered an example in which the property rights created by the quota system are incorporated into a practitioner’s sense of the inalienable humanagent properties of skill. We have heard variable reports on the impact of the combined pressures of the fuel and quota system which suggest that whilst the fleet has contracted it is not yet clear whether it is the only the ‘efficient’ operators that are surviving and only the less competent ones leaving the industry. Neither is it yet clear whether this process will ultimately favour independent fishermen or large corporate firms. Nonetheless that the basis of local success can be valued in terms of meaningful notions of skill and know-how is important as it provides a model of both property and identity that is related more to self-sufficiency and mobility than to privilege. Commenting on conceptions of ‘know-how’ and use-rights amongst the

Evenki of Arctic Siberia described by Anderson (1998), Gudeman argues:

...Knowing-how creates status and commands respect from others; and knowing-how implies a sort of reflexivity with the surrounding world...the injunction not to be greedy in using resources is as much a reflection on a person’s relation to others as it is on his relation to the environment. Knowing the land legitimates using it to sustain one’s self and family, and knowing the land expresses identity and self-realisation in the heritage of skills. This double and instrumental act creates real property through the exercise of human properties (2001:43).

A comparison with another seemingly unrelated ethnographic context might help us comprehend the subtle implications of these narratives. In writing about ritual knowledge about land amongst the Pintupi, an aboriginal Australia people, Myers

has said that:

The focus on “inheritance and rights” does not capture the whole process... the emphasis in these ceremonies is not just on getting rights, but as much on the social production of persons who can “hold” the country... What fathers pass on, or transmit in this way, is not personal property that they have created or accumulated but an identity already objectified in the land... In the production of social persons, they give to younger men the capacity to establish extensive relations of equivalent exchange with each other and to become holders themselves. Such identification with place is a form of “inalienable wealth” (2000: 90-93).

I believe that the narratives I have examined are to be understood as embodying a concern about how the next generation of fishers are socialised to maintain their livelihoods and the environments that sustain them and furthermore that these stories passed down are part of that socialisation process.

Figure 65: David Warwick fixing a trawl net onboard the Valhalla, 2012.

Figure 66: Jack, deckhand and mate, gutting fish on the Valhalla, 2012.

Figure 67: Stefan Glinski in Newlyn harbour aboard his boat White Heather, 2012.

Figure 68: Trawlermen and brothers David and Alec Stevens, 2011. Photograph by Laurence Hartwell.


Marking the western end of the Victorian promenade leading from Penzance to the edge of Newlyn village is a striking public artwork and memorial to fishermen created in 2007 (Fig.69). The promenade has an air of faded charm, with an art-deco 1930s lido at the eastern Penzance end, its Jubilee Pool lettering rusting against white walls (Fig.71). True to historic representation (Fig.72). it is frequently a bracing walk, pounded by rain and bitterly gales. At other times it is balmily warm and bright; on such days the sea stretches magnificently to a far blue horizon of such breadth that the land feels like a mere dark sliver at its edge. Penzance in its heyday was a very busy port indeed and it fostered a significant population of gentry and merchants. With the arrival of the railway in 1867 travellers and tourists contributed to the growth of more leisurely appreciations of the assets of the town and its waters, such as their health-giving properties and visual charms. The Fisherman’s Memorial on the other hand suggests a different experience of the sea. As described by the

artist Tom Leaper:

[It]...is sited by the sea’s edge... and depicts a modern fisherman throwing his landing line towards the entrance (gaps) of the Newlyn Harbour. He stands on a compass deck which sits within a rippled stone. The Memorial is sited on large granite stones from the old Newlyn seafront.

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