Thursday, 5 November 2020

Fishing for Cornish sardines aboard the Golden Harvest.


Heading out from Newlyn at first light, skipper Danny Downing finds a mark of fish under the cliffs that surround Porthcurno and are home to the Minack Theatre. Within minutes, the boat's ring net is shot over the stern and encircles a shoal of unsuspecting sardines. Not until the net is brought alongside and the foot-rope hauled aboard to close or 'ring' the fish is the catch a certainty. On this occasion, 21 tons of the finest Cornish sardines are held captive in the net alongside the boat until pumped aboard into three ice-chilled seawater tanks.

Golden Harvest, skippered by Danny Downing, is a member of the Cornish Sardine Management Association, a group of Cornish fishermen and processors who came together in 2004 to agree common standards between themselves for catching, processing and marketing Cornish Sardines. 

The aims of the Association are:
  • to maintain the quality of the catch 
  • instil methods to protect the stocks 
  • manage and record the catches 
  • to develop the marketing of the product
The owners of the fifteen ring net vessels and the four local sardine processors are members of the Cornish Sardine Management Association who between them catch and process over 95% of the Sardine caught in the fishery. 

Once, when sardines were known as pilchards, they contributed to a huge industry that provided 'meat, fish and light, all in one night' throughout every port and cove in Cornwall. For over two hundred years most of the sardines caught were cured in salt and exported to Italy in wooden casks, as this invoice for pilchards exported from Mevagissey indicates.

The last survivor of these once great pilchard processing houses was the Pilchard Works in Newlyn, owned by Nick Howell who, working with fisherman Martin Ellis from Cadgwith, was the primary driving force in re-introducing the fishery to Cornwall back in the 1990s and ultimately the creation of today's Sardine Management Association. Sadly, the Pilchard Works museum and factory cured its last batch of sardines in 2009, though the company continues to produce tinned sardines thanks to a canners in Brittany.

In 2007, under the EU’s protected names scheme, the name ‘Cornish sardine’ was granted the Product of Geographical Indication (PGI) status, meaning that sardines can only carry that name if the fish are caught within six miles of the Cornish coast, landed and processed within the county of Cornwall or the port of Plymouth. A business wanting to use the PGI logo must be registered with Defra to do so.

In 2010, the Cornish Sardine Fishery was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), meaning that north Atlantic sardines caught by CSMA members within the six mile limit off the coast of Cornwall and landed into Cornwall may carry the MSC logo. These conditions were recently expanded to include sardines from the same area being landed and processed in Plymouth. Fish processors, merchants and retail outlets may label sardines caught off the Cornish coast with the MSC logo, provided they have suitable chain of custody arrangements in place, linking the sardines back to a CSMA fishing member. The Cornish fishery was re certified by the MSC Marine Stewardship Council in March 2017.

For more information visit the Cornish Sardine Management Association website.