Misconception is a fish best served cold.

To see with eyes unclouded by hate.

Fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the UK. With a 1 in 20 chance of death.

To date southwest fish has been running for three years — The original concept behind the brand has failed and it takes a lot to admit that. Since 2012 i’ve embarked on an adventure into Devon and Cornwall’s fishing industry that has taken me on a journey to meet some of the industries most influential personalities. Over this time, i’ve completed my basic training receiving whats known as “tickets” to become commercially viable to work at sea, lived in the garden of one of the best fishermen i’ve ever met, helped out in his fresh fish shop, hauled fish at Plymouth Fish Market and run countless stalls at farmers markets and food festivals across the region. Living through my own journey of hardship, this has made me humble and provided a unique perspective of how the fishing industry is run, insight into the hardships this resilient community faces, yet still survives and thrives.

SWFish was set up to encourage incremental change through innovation, creativity and knowledge transfer, using technology to assist rural industries overcome the issues they face. We believe in openness and fairness centered on collaboration within the community.

Our brand has been misunderstood by the community and its misconception is spurred on by others.

The community has always been at the heart of what we do. But with a heavy heart I’ve come to realise that on the original principles that we were set up we have failed albeit in its present form. We have spent the last 2 years simply attempting to make enough money to stay afloat. This has lead to our ethos becoming diluted and an unconscious bias occur from very stake holders we wanted to help.

SWFish was originally set up to stimulate innovation within the industry encouraging small incremental changes to help safeguard peoples livelihoods into the future. Building upon the industries own initiatives through value added services focused on their own traceability efforts. I’m a strong believer in Fishing Associations, acting as guilds for the members they represent. Many of these were set up back in the 1970's / early 1980's to bring members of the community together so they have a single voice, to address social, economic and cultural change. Allowing them to champion and challenge how their industry is run. Two such associations in particular are the SouthWest Handline Fishermens Association and South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen. Both of these are run by remarkable people in our industry, SWHFA Treasurer David Muirhead and Beshlie Pool, both these individuals passionately care about our oceans and the livelihoods it provides the many members these associations. But over the years their influence to govern policy and ensure how their industry is run has dwindled — more often then not their time is spent batting away the many provocations that have negative implications on their industry and way of life. Often arising from social tensions created by the changing demographics within our costal communities, Salcombe is a prime example which over years has been dubbed “Chelsea-on-Sea” — a survey carried out in 2012 by PrimeLocation.com, revealed 28.9 per cent of Salcombe’s properties achieved a £1million valuation. It’s common knowledge

SWFish represents a changing world.

It was my original hope that SWFish would embody the exchange of knowledge between the media / technology industry (where my experience lies) and these extraordinary rural industries. Thus stimulate innovation in these associations and bring in an external pair of eyes, with different skills to help safeguard their principles and modernise them into the future.

Proof of concept — provenance tag.
Over the two years. I’ve made an effort to ask every fishermen I’ve met “why do you fish?” with a little grin the majority of replies included, to get away from the wife or I must be mad. But each and everyone had this little glint in their eye. All of them, loved it, put simply it was their way of life and their unwavering passion was inspiring.

The traceability scheme that for the last 18 months we have tried to introduce was a simple one. Using our uniquely designed tags to become an emblem of good practice and quality. Through the use of technology we wanted to see 10% of the sale price (at each stage of the supply chain) retained into what we called a hardship fund against the boat and fishermen who actually caught the seafood. So that in times of hardship, bad weather, outside market influences, the individual would have a fund to draw upon. Thus safeguarding their business and become more sustainable.

Our profitability would be through, membership fees, complimentary media services to help promote the industry and micro-transactions generated through the supply chain.

So what went wrong?

High expectations, like all entrepreneurs inspired by the media portrayal of entrepreneurship you go into a new business with aspirations to create a huge impact. The realisation quite quickly sets in and you begin to reestablish business models to ensure profitability and survival.

“The dominant entrepreneurial discourse may be damaging the development of future generations of entrepreneurs by providing inappropriate role models and unrealistic expectations for the entrepreneurial process.”

My own personal mistake: naivety to the industry; its challenges, their experiences and my own lack of entrepreneurial experience during the early stages “start up”. Much more support is needed during this stage, financial assistance isn’t enough.

Although the tide is changing on many of these points these are a few of the observations found during the last two years.

  1. Consumer choice, priorities connivence and cost over freshness and quality. This to me reinforces a disconnect with the supply chain.
  2. The decline of the industry (registered fishing vessels has reduced by 10% since 2003) due to policy and bureaucracy has lead to mistrust and a harbouring resentment towards what is often seen as “imposed change”.
  3. Increased competition in the industry, since 2008 has lead to a lack of collaboration and communication between Small and Medium sized Businesses.
  4. If your not part of the fishing community it is hard to convince members that new ideas have real benefits and “need” across the industry, their priority (understandably) is revenue generation.

Communication issues within the industry, where information and good practice is being retained and kept closely guarded isn’t helping. This is changing, “change agents” as like to call them, such as Dreckly Fish are stimulating the market and sharing good practice amongst the community and encouraging collaboration.

Johnny from Flying Fish Seafoods has an incredible entrepreneurial story. A true champion for change.

What were the successes?

  1. Research — both within the food industry and entrepreneurship. Through customer evaluation, positive engagement with fishermen and research groups at Plymouth Universities renowned Futures Entrepreneurship Centre.
  2. Provided a new lease of life for my own mother, who went through redundancy a few years ago. Through our encouragement she has rebuilt her confidence and now runs a thriving small business. Including all our baked seafood products SWFish stocks.
  3. To date we have sold £9,000 of seafood adding to the local economy in our first year trading.
  4. Positive engagement with the community and attending association meetings to understand the issues faced by the community. Offering support where possible.
  5. Community pledge, for payments and outstanding payments yet to be made, will total in excess of £300 to fishermen.

Other community successes include:

  1. Padstow lobster hatchery donation of £130.
  2. Outreach and support to the Marine Biological Association. We helped them secure funding for their Bio Blitz at Mount Batten through Crowdfunder. Produced a series of videos on invasive marine species and continue to support their outreach education team with fishing equipment, props and artefacts.
  3. Development of new innovative digital products.
  4. Promotion of lesser known seasonal species such as spider crabs, Gurnard, Cuttle fish and more using our social learning approach. To date we have run several interactive picking / filleting demonstrations and hope to do many more.
  5. Production of a number of short films to increase awareness of traceability at all levels of the supply chain, working with suppliers, fishermen, market traders and research groups.
SS35 heading into st’ives.

We believed and still believe this model would go a long way to rebuild both producer and consumer confidence in locally caught seafood, while making the industry more resilient and sustainable in the future.

Where next for SWFish?

We cannot ignore the changing tide in thinking, technologies and attitude across the entire world. While some continue to be resistance to change, others strive forward at an exceptional rate. We look forward to assisting those organisations in the future, offering services, access to skills and thinking to ensure a sustainable future for all. For us we prioritise:

  1. Education preparing consumers of the future to make the right ethical, sustainable choices.
  2. Fairness for all throughout the supply chain for both; fishermen and the consumer.
  3. Sustainability through full traceability of our seafood caught locally. Encouraging a more adaptive management of our fisheries.

For the time being we are reprioritising our strengths as an organisation:

  1. Learning both social and through technology, education has always been a core value of SWFish and we feel there is much more to be done to help raise awareness and promote good practice from within the industry.
  2. Technology we still have one main digital product in early stage development. In parallel to this we will continue to explore emerging technologies, through rapid R&D.
  3. Research into rural industries and entrepreneurship. With one paper soon to be published, we hope there to be many more to come.
  4. You will still catch us at the occasional local farmers market, using social learning to increase awareness. We also have plans to involve more fishermen, to promote their own small businesses, while we offer assistance to make their lives as easy as possible.

Finally on a personal level, I’m planning to do a lot more listening to the community, rather than trying to solve every single problem. I hope to engage more, rather than steam ahead with my own ideas. This will involve attending more association meetings and over time I hope to become a valued member of the community and live up to some of the remarkable people I have met upon my travels.

A massive THANK YOU to all the people who have helped make this dream a reality and the help offered by often complete strangers! it has been a refreshing experience meeting so many people who care about our seas and local rural communities.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.