The recent BBC series, The Fisherman’s Apprentice, sent a marine biologist and professional diver, Monty Halls, to a Cornish fishing village to see for himself what being a fisherman entailed, both in the little, sometimes one-man, boats which fish near the shore to the much bigger trawlers, where men risk life and limb, quite literally, to come out sometimes with not much in the way of profit to show for the risk taken and the work done. Halls featured some of the difficulties involved with the work – the kind of quota system which caused one boat to have to throw fish back into the sea, only to discover when they got back into the shore that the quota had just been increased. The problems of marketing fish also featured, including the curious fact that there are some fish, like langoustine, which only be sold abroad because the English won’t eat them. And, of course, there’s always the weather, and the fact that there are lengthy periods of time when the boats can’t get out at all.
The nearby coastal village of Beer (yes, really – see www.beer-devon.co.uk ) still has a number of real fishing boats and still brings in fresh fish which can be enjoyed at various pubs and restaurants around the centre. I know, because only last week I enjoyed a particularly nice lunch there. It’s something people can forget about Devon. No-one in Beer would deny that tourism means a great deal to them, as it does right across Devon, but other occupations survive, for the time being anyway, though the continuing influx of second homers into the south west poses a growing threat to the community’s survival as anything other than a tourist ‘honeypot’.
As Monty Halls so ably demonstrated, communities lose out if the activities and ways of making a living they’ve employed for centuries die out, and there are some places in Devon now where so many of the properties are second homes that only half of them are inhabited all year round. Holidaying in viable, working communities has to have more spark and interest in it than visiting places which have become like coastal theme parks celebrating a vanished past.
A Beer toast to the Beer people, and long may their fisherman thrive.