Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Environment World News

Transforming small fish into experienced fishermen: Exploring England’s revamped fishing apprenticeship program.

Alfie Steer has chosen a different path to his friends. While they are studying for exams and filling out university application forms, the 17-year-old is setting his alarm for 2.50am and heading out to sea. By 5am, he is hauling crabs from the decks of his father, Alan’s, trawler.

“It may be rough and damp, and the winters may be bumpy, but I truly enjoy it,” he says with a smile. “I am the only one in my circle of friends who has a steady job. It’s a great feeling. I receive a salary and it’s a job that I could see myself doing for the long haul.”

Steer is part of a pioneering new scheme: England’s first modern fishing apprenticeship, launched earlier this autumn in south Devon. The result of years of work from industry leaders, the apprenticeship is seen as a vital part of efforts to ensure there will still be a British fishing industry when Steer is older.

The fishing industry is currently facing various challenges, such as depleted fish populations and a shortage of workers due to Brexit. It can be challenging to attract young individuals to physically demanding jobs, especially during difficult times. To entice them, apprentices are provided with compensation, the opportunity to work with a specific employer, and training that can benefit them in the long run.

Students study a map with their tutor

The program consists of 14 apprentices who split their time between working on boats and attending courses at a college located near the River Dart. At the college, they have access to training boats and rooms specifically designed for net-making and rope work, allowing them to develop practical skills for the trade.

Mark Day, the main instructor who used to be a fisher, explains that the instruction focuses on equipping the entire industry with new skills. “Our course primarily consists of two hands-on components: working with ropes and making nets. We devote a significant amount of time to mastering these abilities,” he states.

In previous times, there may have been individuals present who were capable of completing this task. However, due to the current challenges facing the industry, there are fewer crew members on board. As a result, these younger individuals may not have as much experience as other crew members, but they have received top-notch training and are among the most skilled deckhands in their field.

Four young man in red waterproof coats stand around an older man in front of a boat

The types of boats that students are assigned to can range greatly, from small family crabbing boats like Alan Steer’s to larger trawlers. Once back on land, students have the opportunity to reflect and discuss their experience before beginning hands-on tasks.

Adam Kennedy, a 21-year-old, has made an unexpected career change from retail to fishing. He stumbled upon an advertisement while working at Sainsbury’s and decided to take the leap. Despite having only been on boats during holiday trips, he left his family in Birmingham to pursue this new venture in Devon.

My family and friends were in disbelief when I revealed that I am actually a shy person. They were all taken aback.

He is already fully invested in his new lifestyle. “I am drawn to the thrill and rush of being on the open sea. I am currently employed on a large boat, specifically a scalloper. The initial voyage was challenging, lasting four or five days. However, by the end, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep immediately. It was a comical experience trying to handle the fish as they kept slipping out of my hands. But I didn’t mind, I enjoyed being outside.”

A young man and a older man study a model of a fishing trawler

Alan Steer, who is Alfie’s dad, comes from a long line of fishermen and spent his childhood in Beesands, a small fishing village in Devon. Unfortunately, many family-run fishing operations have disappeared in this area. “As a child, I gained valuable knowledge from my father while accompanying him on crab-fishing trips. However, by attending college, one can learn about various aspects of fishing such as using nets, operating scallop-dredging equipment, and navigating larger boats. This is the type of education the apprentices will receive.”

According to him, the younger generation requires a more comprehensive comprehension of the industry. He admits that he was unaware of his own lack of knowledge about sustainability until he interacted with individuals from different fishing methods, scientists, and policymakers. Together, they were able to brainstorm solutions for each other’s challenges.

Many businesses in the fishing industry, including large trawler owners and supermarket chains, have shown their support for apprenticeships. Morrisons contributed £100,000 to help train 10 new apprentices who will be associated with the South Western Fish Producer Organisation.

According to Katie Hooper, a consultant for Seafish, the board responsible for industry skills, there is a desire for more young individuals to join the industry. Due to Brexit, there has been a decrease in foreign workers, and those who wish to come now would require a skilled worker visa, which can be expensive.

A teacher and student working on a fishing net

However, there has also been a shift in the mindset surrounding fishing. While there are still individuals, such as Alfie, who come from generations of fishers and have always had a clear desire to continue the tradition, it is becoming more common for young people to stay in school until the age of 18.

Fishing is more than just a hobby – it’s a way of life. While it may require hard work and dedication, the opportunity to be out in nature and showcase one’s skills make it a fulfilling experience. Additionally, there are many opportunities for growth and advancement within the fishing industry.

Andrew Pillar, the director of Interfish, a trawler company located in Plymouth, sponsors one of the apprentices and highlights the significant investments being made in UK fishing as a promising sign. He states, “We are optimistic and currently in a phase of renewing our vessels. Fishing has the special capability to support coastal communities and offer well-paying jobs that require skill.”


Part of the investment is being directed towards transforming the traditional atmosphere of fishing boats, which were previously known as challenging environments for working, resting, and dining. Some vessels now feature amenities such as TV, wifi, and cozy bedrooms. Apprentice Archie Cox is currently on board a new boat that is only six months old and has recently undergone a £4.7m upgrade. He shares, “It has air conditioning, comfortable beds, wifi, and all the necessary amenities. It’s fantastic.”

A young man standing on a fishing boat in yellow oilskins gives a thumbs up to the camera

The tutor and ex-fisher, Day, finds it amusing how much the fishing industry has evolved: “Boats now have satellite TV! My father would be shocked.”

He states, “We are teaching these young men that the rules are in place to ensure a sustainable future for fishing. This way, their careers will not end at age 30 due to a depletion of fish.”

“Our sector has consistently faced obstacles. I recall the time of the miners’ strike when there was a shortage of fuel for our boats. And with the onset of Covid, we thought the fishing industry was done for.”

Unfortunately, Brexit has created challenges in recruiting from other countries. However, relying on foreign workers was only a temporary solution. Our program received applications from various locations within the country such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle. We never anticipated such a high number of applicants, receiving 150 for only 14 available spots was astonishing.

“I look forward to their return in a few years to obtain their captain ticket at this location.”

Source: theguardian.com