sun 23/02/2020

Cornwall: This Fishing Life, BBC Two review - a precarious trade on the ocean wave | reviews, news & interviews

Cornwall: This Fishing Life, BBC Two review - a precarious trade on the ocean wave

Cornwall: This Fishing Life, BBC Two review - a precarious trade on the ocean wave

Can Mevagissey's seafaring traditions survive tourism and second-home owners?

Chris Blamey catches a shedload of sardines

Series about fishing have become a durable mini-genre, including the likes of Deadliest Catch and Saltwater Heroes. However, this new six-parter on BBC Two brings us much closer to home than Alaska or Tasmania, and probes into the lives of the fishing families of the Cornish village of Mevagissey.

Unlike many other British ports, Mevagissey is enjoying a comparative boom in its fishing business, with 74 active boats in its harbour, but that doesn’t mean that fishing the Cornish coastal waters is a licence to print money. Frequently, the fishermen are only one bad season from bankruptcy, and finding and catching fish is as much an art as it is a science.

Jack West, having sunk thousands of pounds of his family’s money into his new boat Ann Louise, was struggling to find enough fish to break even. Despite a successful trip to the Scilly Isles, he was left lamenting a season of disappointing catches, with a black cloud of debt looming over him. Dave Warwick, skipper of the Valhalla, can’t even find enough crew for his boat.

Still, one local skipper successfully harnessing the power of technology is Chris Blamey, the fourth generation scion of a dynasty of sea-dogs. Despite his first class university degree, Chris hasn’t been lured away to the aerospace industry or hedge-fund management, but has committed himself to skippering the family boat, the Galwad y Mor. A bit of a lateral thinker, Chris likes to try ploys like fishing over old shipwrecks (it’s called “wreck netting”), and he threw the TV crew off his boat so they couldn’t reveal his secrets. Later, Chris changed all his nets and went hunting for sardines by sonar, which was so successful he had to let half of his enormous catch go.

But although local fish stocks are reportedly rising, the boom years of 40 years ago are never going to return. Storm-blasted Malcolm Saunders (pictured above), who’s 61 but seems to have accumulated 161 years' worth of sea-miles, mused ruefully about his own skippering days when there was big money to be made by plundering the oceans. Today, Mevagissey’s economy is propped up by the booming seasonal tourist trade, but it’s a mixed blessing. City-dwellers purchasing second homes or buy-to-lets have pushed property prices skywards, and now the picture-postcard houses round the port are too expensive for the locals. The fishermen now live in new-build affordable housing up the hill, and have to battle throngs of holidaymakers to reach their boats.

The fishermen like to grumble, and the local council has instituted a hugely popular ban on second-home owners, but Mevagissey is having to face some harsh realities. “You have to change with the times or get left behind,” mused Malcolm the ancient mariner.

Frequently, the fishermen are only one bad season from bankruptcy

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