Our Fishermen’s Fight for Survival

The Fisherman's Apprentice is the story of our fishermen's fight for survival, written first hand by Marine Biologist and TV presenter, Monty Halls as he experiences a year working as a small boat fisherman from Cadgwith Cove in Cornwall, the last defiant outpost of Britain's traditional fishing industry. Through the relentless labour of working on his own boat and the drama of great spiralling storms, Monty experiences a way of life that is quietly dying and looks at what can possibly be done to save a cultural heritage and industry, that has shaped the history and identity of our country for thousands of years.

Whilst learning just how difficult lobster and crab fishing off the coast of Cornwall can be, and in between bouts of incessant sea-sickness, Monty discovers the hardships of the life of modern small boat fishermen. As an ex-marine, former winner of Channel 4’s tough-guy challenge Superhuman, and no stranger to a physical challenge, Monty is surprised, by just how incredibly fit the fishermen are. Nige his mentor and teacher for the duration of his apprenticeship, is 61 but is twice as fit as Monty with the ability to move faster, lift heavier loads and sweat less than anyone Monty has ever met.

Monty discovers that potting for lobster and crab with Nige is hard work indeed. With each pot weighing approximately 15 kilograms, and 30 to a string, recovering seven strings-worth of pots before emptying them of their catch and then throwing each one back over the side, means that between the two of them, they have moved 6,300 kilograms (6 tonnes!) as part of a day’s work.

But if he thought the life of a Cornish small-boat fisherman was tough, Monty gets to experience his biggest challenge yet – life on a beam trawler. He spends eight days fishing 60 miles off the coast of Cornwall on an industrial trawler. The men work in shifts, awake for six hours and asleep for four before being starting again this goes on for eight days solid, within which time they are buffeted by gale force winds and Monty experiences constant sea-sickness.

Back on land Monty has a new found respect for all fishermen from boats small and large and discovers he has become an accepted member of the community (helped somewhat by his first child being born in the village). In experiencing the fisherman’s way of life first hand Monty learns that the fishing communities are being squeezed by a myriad of threats to their livelihood, from the decreasing market price of fish, imports from overseas and the increase of diesel prices, to government quota allocation and EU legislation which has a one size fits all approach that leaves fishermen frustrated and disenfranchised.

As the months go by in Cadgwith Monty puts all his efforts into finding a solution to the gradual demise of the fishing communities in Cornwall. After a visit to America, Monty discovers that fishing communities there are supporting their own fishing fleet by buying fresh fish direct from the fisherman and avoiding supermarkets and imported fish. Monty wonders if starting Community Supported Fisheries in the UK could be a solution to our own dwindling fishing industry. After months fishing off the Cornish coast he begins to realise that the low impact fishing of small Cornish boats both sustains the marine environment and ensures that this ancient tradition that symbolises the last of the hunter-gatherers is not lost.

About Monty Halls
“The sad news is that today we are looking at the demise of the fishing industry as we know it. At the heart of the industry is an impossible matrix of contradictory data from scientific bodies, the industry itself, and various legislative groups. Much of this data is based on attempts to monitor populations of fish species that we still don’t entirely understand, before it’s used by organisations that have different political agendas. This is then passed onto big businesses and lobbying groups to make changes that they don’t want to make in timescales that aren’t reasonable. That’s the complex reality.”

Monty is a former Marine, the winner of Channel 4’s tough-guy challenge Superhuman, has a first class degree in marine biology and is a well-known and highly respected diver, regularly contributing to Dive Magazine. In the past he has been expedition leader for a number of adventurers and scientists, but since 2005 he has concentrated on TV work. Previous series for the BBC include Monty Halls’ Great Escape, Monty Halls’ Great Hebridean Escape and Monty Halls’ Great Irish Escape and most recently Reef on BBC 1. The Fisherman’s Apprentice is a six part Television series airing on Wednesday nights at 8pm on BBC 2 from Wednesday 29th February to Wednesday 4th April.

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