Recently I was lucky enough to be shown around Newhaven Harbour by David Guy, the site manager and Secretary of the Newhaven Fish & Flake Ice Society Ltd. Harbours and docks provide beautiful scenery and bring a slice of the ocean to the peri-urban areas we find them in and Newhaven Harbour is no different. I can’t help but imagine the fishermen out at sea but it’s naïve of me to think of the nautical paraphernalia lying around the site as ‘charming’ and ‘picturesque’ when this is a working harbour and the ropes and anchors are practical equipment used everyday by the fishermen. I wanted to visit the harbour to find out more as Newhaven has a rich history of fishing but one which many of us know too little about.
David told me that there are between 15 to 20 active fishing vessels that use the harbour and that they’re all owned by independent local businesses. The fish that’s being caught is predominantly sole, plaice, huss, brill and turbot with some fishermen choosing to specialise and go for warmer water varieties like bass, squid and red-mullet. David told me that previously the fishermen would’ve been catching cod, but a number of factors have run cod out of local waters, something that has been seen globally due to changing water temperatures driving cod away from where they once would’ve thrived. This is not the only change that David tells me about, he’s candid about his concerns for the fishing industry, one which is struggling to bring in new entrant fishermen and that is up against red-tape in all directions (not entirely caused by Brexit, David says, but definitely not helped by it).
The main building on site is currently being used by a butcher, whilst David is grateful that the space is being used and the rent being paid, he hopes that one day the building can go back to its original purpose of processing the fish on site. Currently, the fish is taken to Eastbourne to be weighed and graded, some then goes to Kent for export and some to auction in Brixham in Devon which is England’s largest fish market. It was interesting to hear about how the fish that’s caught off our local coast is not always the fish we’re used to eating in this country. It’s very hard to change a nation’s eating habits and this impacts the import and export market, a lot of what is caught at Newhaven is exported to France where they are familiar with different types of fish that we may not be. Thankfully the fish can be bought locally, there’s a shop called West Quay Fisheries nearby selling some local catches, but gone are the days that there would be a thriving fish market selling fish straight from the boats to the local people – at least for now.
Levelling Up fund
The Levelling Up Funding from Lewes District Council was secured from central Government and is aimed at rejuvenating the fishing industry in Newhaven, with it comes plans that Newhaven Fish will be able to bring the processing of fish back to Newhaven at a new venue on Avis Way, as well as expand the docks increasing the number of vessels that can moor there.
Another exciting prospect is that of a new restaurant showcasing locally caught fish on the menu. It was interesting to hear David speak about ideas of how to get different varieties of fish on to our British plates, something which he has worked on in the past with South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), a government agency that closed in 2012. Wendi Goodsell from Yorwarths Fresh Fish, whose family has been involved in the fishing industry for over 200 years on the Sussex coasts, says that they are “hoping to get pop up markets going again… not just fish, but hopefully together with other local producers”.
Whilst this is all great news for seafood-lovers the reality is that the industry needs new entrant fishermen and women to ensure that small local businesses can continue to operate, the alternative is that large scale, multinational fishing corporations will monopolise the waters catching local fish but exporting them to faraway markets, losing a local industry and the jobs many rely on.
None of this is short-term and there are many challenges along the way, including the price of steel, but supporting the local fishing industry is one which Lewes District Food Partnership support and we would like to see it become more common to pop down the fish market to get fresh local produce than rely on supermarkets which do not offer fair prices to fishermen or farmers.