For years small-scale fishermen have struggled to have a voice at the table in a way big businesses in the fishing industry does.
All too often meetings with regulators are set for middle of the day, middle of the week. Owner operators and micro businesses must make stark choices about being heard at Government meetings or earning a living. But it does not have to be that way.
Over the past year 50 commercial fishermen from across the ports of West Bay, Lyme Regis, Beer and Axmouth, potters, netters, trawlermen, anglers and scallop divers decided to come together and change that and so a Community Interest Company was formed and christened the Lyme Bay Fisherman’s CIC (LBF).
Mandy Wolfe LBF’s new Chief Executive said:
“We first started talking with fishermen about creating an organisation in 2021, everyone thought it was a great idea to try and form a representative body from across the four ports and find funding to help staff and advocate for the local fleets. We knew what was needed, but there wasn’t a template for doing it”.
But Wolfe explains that a visit from senior DEFRA officials and their team back in 2019 first got her thinking something needed doing.
“It was great to host senior DEFRA officials and their team for a couple of days in 2019. They told me they wanted face to face no holds barred discussions, and my fishermen were up for the task! We met in backrooms of pubs and cafes in the ports and the discussions were lively. But what planted the nugget was how much the officials got out it. There were of course things they had heard before, but some individual experiences and issues fishermen raised had not been cutting through to their level. I picked up from them how vital to good policy this type of information is, but it took a while to work out how we could achieve that on a permanent basis, to get those voices in the room and heard by those taking decisions,” Wolfe said.
In early January 2022 these pathfinding fishermen convened a workshop to decide everything from the organisations name, to who would sit on the board. What ensued was a day of back and forth discussing structure, goals, routes to them, and the plan was hatched and honed.
“It was really important to me that this organisation was truly representative, and the fishermen felt the same way. Everyone knows how difficult it is to get that many fishermen in a room at the same time but when you can the ideas flow and passion for this industry is palpable.
“Fishermen becoming members, and those members voting for who among them would sit on the board and prescribing as a whole group the workstreams and projects was vital to ensure this isn’t just going to be another org that claimed to represent fishermen, but had very little input from them.”
The day long workshop was orchestrated and outputted in a report, it was circulated to all who attended for approval and the real journey then began. From registering the CIC at Companies house to tax and VAT registration, opening bank accounts and preparing bids, it has been full steam ahead since then.
West Bay fishermen and Director of LBF Aubrey Banfield said
“There can be no doubt without Mandy’s work, supported by Blue Marine we would have not achieved this. Across these ports there will often be competing and conflicting views, but they are all valid and representation is about just that, making time and space for all views and making sure that they are heard. Our new organisation has made that aspiration a reality and I could not be prouder of every fisherman that has made this possible.”
Thanks to the Governments fisheries fund administered by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) the new CIC has just been awarded a grant to deliver the vision the fishermen have over the next two years which will provide an FTE employee to run the CIC and get it up and functioning and begin a number of projects.
“I am so grateful for the grants team at the MMO for their help and support. We thought that our ideas and application met the fund requirements but being able to lift the phone along the way and get clear answers was vital to understand a process none of us had worked with before,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe strongly believes that this grass roots, bottom-up approach is key but understands that this may be a daunting task for fishermen sat around the coast to get off the ground and hopes the new CIC can secure funding to share the experiences and create a how-to guide for others to follow and support for other coastal communities to do the same.
Source: Press Release