The Storylines team decamped to the Cricket Inn at Beesands, South Devon, to hear more stories and memories from shellfishermen past and present, working the coastal waters around Start Bay. We had visitors from Hallsands, Beesands, Dartmouth, Paignton and Salcombe with yet more tales of an ever changing industry.
One of the great privileges of sitting with someone and listening to their stories is the amount of knowledge you gradually acquire, whether it be about a place, an industry, a process, an item of clothing, a landscape or a period of time. It’s not that you become instant experts about such things, but your world suddenly opens up and expands and on a day to day level small things make sense and this world becomes a little bit more joined up each day. We found this when exploring the china clay industry around Carn Grey in Cornwall. Our newly found knowledge of the industry and its processes informed everyday life, as we recognised where china clay featured in our lives and how it had got there.
So the anticipation of increasing our meagre knowledge of all things ‘shellfishy’ was immense as we embarked on the ‘Guardians of the Reef’ Project. Here are 10 things that we have learnt which have have surprised us…
- A crab pot can be traced back to the person and place, which it was created by looking at how it’s woven, almost like a signature.
- A surprising amount of fishermen cannot swim… as one remarked, “If I planned on being in the water I wouldn’t be a very good fisherman!”
- It’s not only shellfish that gets hauled up in the pots…. Many fishermen have similar stories of pulling up bombs, some which have yet to be detonated.
- Launching and returning to a beach such as Beesands and Hallsands brings with it a number of challenges, especially when the sea is rough. Retired fisherfolk, both men and women would help bring the first boats back into shore, pulling them up the beach.
- Crabs are social by nature and can often be found in groups.
- In fishing families they start young… many people remember going to sea to bring in a few lobsters or crabs before going to school.
- Most fishermen have nicknames… some repeatable, some not! All with a story.
- Most adaptations to pots, fishing gear and techniques start with one individual trying something new… some inventions, though laughed at the start, stick and are soon adopted far and wide. The French way of ‘knicking’ crabs claws (to take away their ability to open and close their claws) was ridiculed at first, but now most fishermen French knick their claws.
- Us English don’t eat much shellfish… with much of peoples catch going to Europe and now as far afield as China.
- Shellfishing is arguably one of the most sustainable types of fishing; not only because animals that are too small to be caught are returned to the sea alive, but because the gear stays in one place and impacts on the sea bed are considered minimal.
If like us you are intrigued about this ever changing industry and want to find out more, then make sure to check our website for dates for the forthcoming screenings of our films and digital stories, which will take place at Beesands and Hope Cove in the spring of 2018 (dates tbc).
Our thanks goes to everyone who attended the collection day at Beesands earlier this month and to Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum who came to scan some incredible photos brought in by our guests and for the loan of artefacts for our display table. Thanks also goes to the Cricket Inn who provided phenomenal hospitality and the welcoming space for our visitors to share their stories.
This project was made possible due to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being delivered in partnership with the South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen Association.