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Wednesday 23 November 2022

Newlyn Fish Festival 2023?

After three years without a Fish Festival moves are afoot to reinstate one of Cornwall's most anticipated events. To that end, there will be a meeting at 5pm, December the 5th at the Argoe Restaurant, Newlyn Harbour. Anyone with an interest in seeing the festival up and running again is welcome. The agenda will include what sort of festival and who should benefit from any proceeds created - this will be a community led event.

1,000s of visitors

The festival, first opened to the public in1991, regularly attracted up to 20,000 visitors and raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity, namely the Fishermen's Mission. In the early days, the event hosted a trade show for the fishing industry - the fish market was full of companies keen to showcase their products and services to a rapidly changing fleet. By 2019 circumstances, including a major transformation of the fish market and the Covid lockdowns, forced the festival to be abandoned.

Much has changed since the early days. Like many large public gatherings, the impact of health and safety and insurance cover have restricted certain features and for many, the increasing presence of non-fishing contributors detracted from what should be a celebration of all things fish and fishing. With all that in mind, it is hoped that a new committee will be formed to once again put on a festival which truly reflects Newlyn's position as the fishing port that lands a greater variety of fish from the widest variety of fishing vessels in the UK.

Passionate about fish - fish-filleting maestro, Duncan Lucas tells all

For many, the very epitome of the fish festival was the huge fish display - for many years put together by Sue and Duncan Lucas.  Logistically, this was always a challenge as the display relied entirely on fish donated by boats in the days running up to the Bank Holiday Monday - and the weather did not always play ball often keeping many of the inshore fleet tied up beforehand! 

Top fish chefs like Paul Ainsworth demonstrated their fish cookery skills

Whatever final format the team develops, a new festival will have fish at the very heart of the event in order to celebrate every aspect of an industry that has existed since the Old Harbour was built as safe haven for fishing boats way back in the 15th century. Nowadays, the harbour plays host to a modern fleet of beam trawlers, trawlers, scallopers, netters, potters and hand-line fishermen who between them regularly land over 50 species of fish to a fish auction that supplies a good percentage of its fish to European markets - though that percentage continues to fall from the 90% it once was.

Today's feature rich wheelhouse - almost needs a degree in electronics!

One thing is for sure, Newlyn is at the very heart of a modern, sustainable fish industry - many innovative ideas to conserve or protect fish and other species have been thought of, trialled and developed with the direct involvement of Newlyn fishermen. Harbour based Seafood Cornwall Training play a key role in training, advising and developing local skippers and crews and now run the new Fishing Apprenticeship - and a quick scan of the job description reveals just how demanding the work really is. Crucially, the industry now needs to attract young people to protect the future of the industry rather than rely so heavily on overseas crews as it does at present. Celebrating the wide range of career options in fishing - one that can, and does, provide an income well above the average in Cornwall - should be a key feature of any new festival.  For example, Hunting the Catch, the most recent fishing BBC TV series focussed on the the thoughts and decision taken by skippers of crabbers, trawlers, beam trawlers and a pelagic boat - the qualifications needed just to take a boat to sea - irrespective of the knowledge, skills and experience they have to manage a boat and crew and find enough fish to make it pay - are actually at degree and post-graduate level. Fishing is not the brawn, bravado and a few beers back in the harbour-side bar as so often depicted in the media.

Dick Ede - and the art of pot making - by Nick Henshaw.

The attraction and reasons for visiting a real life working fishing port are many - the chance to see up close work still seen as a way of life rather than a 'job',  the sights, sounds and smells around the harbour, demonstrations of skills like pot and net-making that date back thousands of years, well before even the building of Newlyn's Old Harbour, chefs, fishmongers and merchants with fish fresh from the sea on display, being prepared and cooked in a myriad of ways for the table, boats, some well over 100 years old and new, to go aboard and see first hand - the list is endless. 

Pete Goss re-created the incredible Mystery voyage.

In addition to all that the fleet has has to offer, the harbour and town of Newlyn have seen history made and recorded for centuries - from the Mayflower stopping off to top up on fresh water on its way to the Americas, the start of the amazing world's first trans-oceanic sailing boat voyage in 1854 by the lugger Mystery, the Newlyn Riots, hosting Belgian and Breton fishermen during WWII and the almost impossible to calculate significance that the Tidal Observatory has played in creating every nautical chart in use by shipping the world over - the list is endless. Newlyn is also unique for having seen the creation of its own School of Art to rival French Impressionism - a tradition still very much alive today given the number of thriving artists studios and galleries in and around the harbour.

Ultimately, and at the very heart of this unique community, is fish. It is to fish we should turn for the inspiration to make a new festival happen. So, last but not least, listen to what TV chef Angela Hartnett in conversation with fish buyers and chefs like Nathan Outlaw and Mitch Tonks has to say on just how important it is to promote the eating of fish!

So, whatever your interest, skill or just plain curiosity, here is an opportunity to see that we celebrate fish and fishing in a new way as the harbour faces its fishing future.

Fish Festival Meeting

Where? Argoe Restaurant, Newlyn Harbour

When? 5pm Monday 5th December 2022.

Refreshment drinks will be available

If you cannot make the meeting but have any thoughts, ideas and suggestions, please email them here.


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