A postcard from Weymouth fishing fleet

Postcard Series

Weymouth is one of Britain’s busiest fishing ports

A (very) brief history

There has been a fishing port at Weymouth since Roman times (strictly at Radipole via the River Wey). The Port moved to Melcombe Regis in the mid-13th Century, trading spice and other goods. A century later, the port was the entry point for the Black Death. The two towns of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis united in 1571.

Pilgrim Voyages. The discovery of Newfoundland and colonisation of Massachusetts
The discovery of Newfoundland and colonisation of Massachusetts

In 1635, the Ship Charity carried pilgrims to the new land of America, founding Weymouth in the present-day state of Massachusetts. Weymouth made many contributions to history over the centuries. Probably the biggest was embarkation of over 500,000 troops heading to the Normandy Beaches in WW2. Today, we are highlighting Weymouth fishing fleet.

Fishing vessel setting out
Fishing vessel setting out

Fishing in Weymouth

The Sea near Weymouth is relatively sheltered, tending to circulate (nutrients) more or less gently around the Bay. The habitats range from sea grass meadows and kelp, to rocky ledges, gravel dunes and erosion beds. This mix of environments couples with the stream of food sources from the English Channel. This sustains a rich and varied marine fauna.

Offloading the day's catch of whelks outside Weyfish
Offloading the day’s catch of whelks outside Weyfish

Protecting the Environment

Much of the Dorset inshore area falls under the Marine Conservation Act. As a consequence, the impact of more aggressive industrialised fishing methods has been minimal. Most inshore fishing uses a more traditional style, with smaller boats, having pots, traps, hand-lines and static nets.

Middle Harbour. A new fishing centre is planned a few hundred metres away
Middle Harbour. A new fishing centre is planned a few hundred metres away

Mirroring commercial activity, Sea-angling from Chartered boats has become a major local industry. The sport contributes a significant portion of the National £1.3 Billion National sea fishing recreational industry. There are 11 local charter boats and thousands of anglers visit Weymouth every year for wreck and deep sea angling.

Weymouth also houses the second CEFAS Laboratory (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science). Here, the principal work invlolves operating the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI). Additional work includes that for numerous UK and International organisations. The FHI monitors and enforces restrictions on fish and shellfish imports.

The Fishing Fleet

In a recent survey in 2018, there were 39 fishing vessels in the regular fleet. Of these, 36 were under 10 metres and average age was 28 years. Most were using nets, traps, pots or lines (for bass). Weymouth lies close to Poole, Brixham, good fishing grounds and Ferries to the EU. This makes the port popular for numbers of “nomadic” crabbers and whelkers. Over 40 species of fish and shellfish are common sights at Weymouth. The annual catch value is about £4 million pa and weighs about 8000 tons. Crabs and whelks make up about 85% of the total weight. The smaller boats tend to catch more bass.

Fish transport and processing

Normally, Live crabs, scallops and lobsters are transhipped by lorry (e.g. MacDuff’s) to Poole for ferrying abroad. Whelks typically serve Asian markets. Weymouth is the second largest port for landing line-caught bass, while the processing of the catch occurs on Portland before auction in Brixham. Major UK fish processors benefiting from Weymouth catches are Samways (Bridport), Dorset Fish and Shellfish (Poole), MacDuff (Mintlaw) and Weyfish (local).

Weyfish

There has been a Fish Market in Weymouth for 150 years. In recent times, Weyfish took over the building and renovated throughout. Up to 40 species of fish and shellfish may be found, depending on conditions and season. Specialties include fresh bass, mackerel, pollack, plaice, oysters, clams and lobsters. The company owns 3 boats in the Weymouth fishing fleet (Ellie Ann, Shaman and Cheetah Cat). The catch is fresh and never frozen. Our neighbours tell us the bass is to die for – superb quality.

Weyfish amid massive crowds for the Seafood Festival in 2019

Nyetimber Seafood Festival – Weymouth 13th, 14th July 2019

This year’s Weymouth Seafood Festival was sponsored by Nyetimber, makers of fine English wines. For many years, Pommery led the event and it is exciting to see a new sponsor organise this great event.

We popped out and took a few images (gallery above) around Aaran Guesthouse, on the Northern side of the Harbour. Some of our guests wandered as far as Hope Square and reported live music bands and many more stalls along the Cove Row side of the Harbour. Over 40 food specialists displayed their wares, from the Pavilion Theatre forecourt, down the harbourside to the Town Bridge and back along Cove Row towards Hope Square. Numerous other stalls could be seen, dotted among the main displays and in a few of the Guesthouse rear yards (e.g. The Gloucester at The Lantana). Not forgetting, numerous permanent Pubs and Restaurants, serving great seafood all year round (e.g. Ship, George, Enfants Terrible)

The weather over the weekend was warm, with sunny spells and a light breeze – much appreciated while sitting enjoying the food and the scenery outside the Harbourside pubs. Tens of thousands of visitors crowded the Harbour, looking for the ideal meal among the many options. We spotted crispy squid, “experimental” marmalades (eg. carrot, parsnip, etc), crepes, specialist gin, oysters, Thai Cuisine, Paella, Chimonea-fired pizza, Organic Farm produce, local cheeses, produce from The Garlic Farm, Isle of Wight, as well as some “usual suspects” – Weird Fish, CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and no less than THREE cooking stages, with famous chefs showing their skills and tips for the public. A great day for exploring with this afternoon (Sunday) still to go…