In Eng­land — Now!: The Fish­er­men of Selsey

Cel­e­brat­ing English achieve­ment, en­ter­prise and creativ­ity in the 21st cen­tury

This England - - Contents - John Pe­riam

Selsey in West Sus­sex has a strong fish­ing her­itage with its fleet of ves­sels at an­chor either side of the slip­way by the RNLI’S Lifeboat Sta­tion. They are reached each day by small ten­ders from the beach.

Shell­fish is pop­u­lar with tourists in the sum­mer months, so the fish­er­men have am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to source lo­cal restau­rants and pubs with their daily catches. The Selsey crab has an es­tab­lished name within the fish­ing in­dus­try sim­i­lar to that of Cromer in Nor­folk and Vent­nor on the Isle of Wight. It is some­thing that the town’s fish­er­men are proud of, and the name helps pro­mote their crabs around the re­gion.

Es­tab­lished fish­ing fam­i­lies in­clud­ing the Lang­fords, Har­veys, De­la­hauntys, Wil­sons, Bir­ketts and Reeves have worked this part of the coast for gen­er­a­tions. Grand­fa­ther to fa­ther to son have car­ried on fish­ing from the town’s shin­gle beaches. Be­hind the prom­e­nade are their work­ing huts where they pre­pare the shell­fish ready for sale — along with a cou­ple of fish whole­salers.

The fish­er­men know each other well, and do share their concerns re­lat­ing to the in­dus­try. As one fish­er­man said, “Rest as­sured if any­one was in trou­ble at sea, we would all be there to help each other.”

Dan Lang­ford is a 21-year-old third gen­er­a­tion fish­er­man and one of the youngest to fish from Selsey.

“My cur­rent boat Rapid Re­turn L177, is a Colvic Fast Cat 38-foot fish­ing boat that was built in Poole, Dorset, in 1989. I have had it for 15 months af­ter buy­ing it from its pre­vi­ous owner who fished with it from Mil­ford Haven. It is well equipped with two plot­ters, radar, two VHF ra­dios as well as a GPS Nav­i­ga­tor.”

It was at 6am that Dan and his crew Brad Shaw (sec­ond hand) and Toby Fairminer (third hand) moved the ten­der down the tim­ber run­ners over the gravel bank loaded with bait and sup­plies into the sea and mo­tored in the dark­ness to­wards Rapid Re­turn’s moor­ing.

Af­ter board­ing, they got un­der­way. Dan finds his pots by us­ing his Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem (GPS). The first pot buoy is found with the help of a search­light and hauled on board. It is team­work at its best, and all runs smoothly. “One of the prob­lems that we en­coun­tered to­day was that in one haul half of the pots were filled with pun­gent grey-coloured silt. Th­ese pots had no whelks, re­sult­ing in no in­come. It takes us extra time and strength to re­move this silt from the heavy-weighted pots,” said Dan.

Af­ter four more whelk trawls they went fur­ther out into the Chan­nel whilst at the same time bag­ging up the whelks and wash­ing the deck down and pre­par­ing the bait, ready for more pots.

Crabs and lob­sters were next on the list. Each pot is opened and the mea­sur­ing gauge was used. The base skin was also checked for soft­ness and if any did not meet the spec­i­fi­ca­tion they were re­turned to the sea.

“It was not a good day,” said Dan as we re­turned to our moor­ing. “We were at sea for six hours and caught a quar­ter­tonne of whelks, 50 ki­los of crabs and five ki­los of lob­ster. Fish­ing just two miles off the coast we would have ex­pected to do a lot bet­ter.

“Once back on the moor­ing the catch is trans­ferred to the ten­der and bought back to the shore. The whelks are then dropped off at one of the two fish whole­salers and the crabs and lob­sters taken to my dad’s unit, Selsey Wil­lows, where they are shelled and packed by

the ex­pe­ri­enced Dave and Rhi­an­non. Once pro­cessed they go into our cold stor­age units ready for de­liv­ery to our lo­cal out­lets.”

Weather is a ma­jor prob­lem along this part of the coast. Strong east­erly winds mean that at times they need to moor up in Chich­ester Har­bour as they can­not launch from Selsey. “Peo­ple seem to for­get that weather acts as a quota,” ex­plained Dan, “In the past few weeks we have only been able to go to sea for a cou­ple of days. The fore­cast looks the same next week; later to­day I will take Rapid Re­turn into Chich­ester to keep her out of harm’s way.

“Cur­rently we fish within the three­mile limit — whelk­ing in­side the twom­ile — then pot be­tween the two- and three-mile. We also go mid-chan­nel to fish for crab and lob­sters. It can take up to three hours to get there, and it is very much based on weather and tides. We can stay up to 10 hours. It makes for a very long day, some­times up to 17 hours with very early starts.”

Dan started fish­ing at the age of 15, go­ing out with his dad in their Orkney 21 ft. Fast Liner called Lau­ren Dan.

“It was too small for the both of us so the next step was to get a Holton 24 called Co­ralie Dawn from Alder­ney in the Chan­nel Is­lands.”

They fished that for four years prior to getting their cur­rent boat Rapid Re­turn.

“We needed this as we had to go a lot fur­ther out into the Chan­nel — it has proved to be an ex­cel­lent and re­li­able work­ing boat. I am glad I made the de­ci­sion to fol­low my dad — I have no re­grets go­ing into fish­ing. I like it but like any job there are wor­ries. It’s hard work and you know you have got to earn money all the time. My part­ner Isla who comes from a fish­ing fam­ily back­ground and I want to set­tle down to­gether and even­tu­ally get our own house. I think she knows what she is tak­ing on,” said Dan with a smile.

The fu­ture is what it is all about with the Lang­ford fam­ily. Grand­fa­ther Michael still likes to keep his eye on things.

“My how things have changed now the fam­ily is in its third gen­er­a­tion. I started fish­ing by work­ing with a fish­er­man called Bert Holm; we used wil­low pots at­tached to seven-fathom lines with corks at ev­ery fathom. Some­times we used to say ‘It’s a sol­dier’s wind’ and then put our sails up — we did not have a lot of pots like they use now — 10 was of­ten our max­i­mum and be­ing wil­low there were of­ten is­sues re­triev­ing them. In my day more peo­ple went prawn­ing with a small ketch; there were more punts, as we called them, rather than crab­bers.

“We used to come in and then get on our bikes and cy­cle seven miles into Chich­ester with our prawns and put them on the train to Billings­gate Fish Mar­ket, then cy­cle back home, which we did ev­ery time we went to sea.”

Richard, his son, came in with him and they had a French crab­ber called Pisces, and worked to­gether for eight years. “It does not hap­pen now. Af­ter school the chil­dren used to come down and help out on the fish­ing boats, wash­ing them down, un­load­ing fish and at times go­ing to sea. Sadly now it ap­pears to be com­puter games and mo­bile-phone texts.”

Selsey lifeboat has played an im­por­tant part in the fam­ily with all hav­ing been crew mem­bers; Dan is cur­rently on the crew. There is a new boathouse to house the lat­est de­signed Shan­non lifeboat which will launch from the beach (see the ar­ti­cle on page 69).

There are ex­cit­ing plans for the fu­ture for the Lang­fords: an ex­pan­sion into the re­gional farm­ers’ mar­kets.

“It is some­thing we have been look­ing at for a while now,” said Richard. “I re­cently ac­quired from re­tired fish­er­man Shaun Con­nors his com­pany called Selsey Wil­lows Seafood. In the New Year I will con­cen­trate on run­ning this side of the busi­ness whilst Dan will run Lang­ford Lob­sters.

“Farm­ers’ mar­kets seem to be part of com­mu­nity life across the re­gion and I will be vis­it­ing about 12 of them a month in Sus­sex and Sur­rey. The idea is to take the fish di­rect to the cus­tomer, cut­ting out the mid­dle man. Peo­ple love fresh fish and if laid out and pre­sented prop­erly on a nice mar­ket stall it at­tracts a lot of in­ter­est. Peo­ple visit th­ese mar­kets to buy a full range of coun­try pro­duce, and we fit nicely into this.”

The Fish­er­men of Selsey

Toby care­fully packs and stacks the crab and lob­ster pots on the deck.

Re­turn­ing an un­der­sized crab to the sea.

Michael, who fished in the days of sail. Dan, Brad and Toby aboard Rapid Re­turn.

Shaun Con­nors (left) and Richard Lang­ford at Chich­ester Farm­ers’ Mar­ket on the Selsey Wil­lows Seafood stall.

The crew work to­gether to haul pots, rid­dle the whelks and put fresh bait in the pots.

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