Date:December 22, 2014
Catchbox on the south coast creates a direct link between fishermen and customers to cut waste and ensure fair wages.
Britain’s fishermen were rejoicing this month following news they will be allowed to increase their catch of cod and other key fish species next year. But the quotas flout scientific advice on overfishing and there are gaps in the regulations that mean fleets will be able to continue to discard large quantities of fish for several years to come.
For consumers who want to ensure their catch is sustainable, there is growing interest in sustainable fishing co-operatives, which create direct links between fishermen and customers.
Catchbox was launched at the end of March 2013 as a community-supported fishery by marine biologist Jack Clarke, with support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and ocean conservation group SeaWeb. It started with 70 members and four fishers, and has since grown to 300 members and six fishers, doubling its coverage across the south coast.
On a managerial and admin level, the co-op is run on a voluntary basis by a core group of fishers and customers (members), who are all keen to raise awareness of sustainable fishing methods and the different kinds of fish available while ensuring the fishers receive a fair wage.
Everyone who joins the co-op pays an initial one-off membership fee of £10 and customers then agree on a weekly or fortnightly amount of fish they would like, which they pay for upfront. Each kilo of fish costs £6, of which £5 is paid directly to the fisher and £1 retained to cover co-op costs.
The Catchbox season runs for 24 weeks over the summer months, divided into two 12-week stints. During the season fishers are paid weekly, so they know how much money they have coming in. What’s more, Catchbox pays more than regular markets, giving fishers a respite from the financial struggles that blight the industry.
Trudy Bridgeman-Rivety has been an active member of Catchbox since the beginning. She first heard about the co-op via the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and now runs the Brighton hub. She says: “A maximum amount that can be fished and sold is agreed in advance with the fishers. The Brighton and Hove fishers, for example, have a top limit of 25kg a day Monday to Friday, which is manageable for both the fisher and Catchbox.”
Unlike large fishing trawlers that can cause serious damage to the seabed, all of the small inshore fishers serving Catchbox work in boats less than 10m long, which means they can be much more sustainable and selective in how and what they fish. Of course, this also means small fishers can’t guarantee how much they’ll catch in a day. For fishers Peter and Chantelle Williams, who supply Chichester and Emsworth, a day’s work might only yield 10 fish, and a catch of 25kg could take them 12 hours compared to 10 minutes for a big boat.
Chantelle says: “We’re based in a mixed fishery and Catchbox doesn’t place restrictions on the species, so there’s no wastage. A catch might include gurnard, plaice, dover sole, bream, bass, dogfish or grey mullet, but if a species is unfamiliar to customers we show them what to do and go online to source recipes. So not only are we educating people about fish, we’re also reducing food miles and creating a market for local fish. People are now asking for a wider range of fish, which is increasing sustainability and reducing pressure on individual stocks.”
Catchbox’s co-op structure – it is incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society/ Community Benefit Society – has been pivotal to its success as everyone has a collective mission and a say in what happens.
“Our members and volunteers have really pulled together to help make Catchbox work,” says Bridgeman-Rivety. “It’s wonderful being part of something; doing the right thing. Everyone is equal so we all have a say in what happens and it’s democratic. We do an annual survey to see where people want hubs, so it’s a very democratic, open process.”
As well as volunteering to run Catchbox, members show their support in other ways. Some have been politically mobilised by their increased awareness of the challenges facing small inshore fishers. Fishing quota regulations, for example, triggered a flurry of letters to MPs and newspapers from Catchbox members, who feel they are part of their local fishing community.
Now that winter is here, Catchbox members are using the time to think ahead. Chantelle Williams is keen to take Catchbox into schools to help educate young people about the co-op and its mission.
Bridgeman-Rivety adds: “We want to continue to change people’s perceptions, get them back in touch with where their fish comes from and get them eating a wider variety of local fish instead of buying anonymous supermarket fillets.”