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Of Fishing, Food and Fish by Elaine Hayes - National Marine Park Plymouth

I was seven when I almost drowned; I can still remember the initial feeling of

panic as I went under for the first time and then the struggle to the surface,

gasping for air. As I went under for the third time I felt a strange sense of

detachment and calm when suddenly I was pulled from the water by my


What has any of this got to do with fishing you may well ask? Well as usual in

our family Dad had taken the three kids out to give Mum a break but the

opportunity to fish at the same time was too tempting and we were as usual

by the water – and at the time none of us could swim!

I learned to fish as soon as Dad felt we were old enough to hold a rod – he

would have fished in a puddle if he thought he would catch anything. So much

of my childhood memories are about beaches and the sea. Low tide meant

bait catching – diving down holes dug in the sand to catch hold of the tail of a

juicy lugworm; foraging under rocks and in pools looking for peelers (crabs

that had soft bodies due to moulting) a much-loved dinner for many fish. We

also shrimped but that story is for another day.

Lugworms - Its coiled castings are a familiar sight on a beach at low tide.

As the tide came in the focus switched to the serious business of catching

fish. This wasn’t simply sport – we were catching fish to eat for dinner. And we

caught plenty – cod, plaice, rock and always, always eels – some big ones too

– always entangled in line and covered in slime. We used to race the eels

down the beach. Dad would curse as disentangling them from the line took

ages and was a very slimy job.

Sadly you won’t catch many of these species today – there has been too

much pressure on our stocks and it is now a long road back.

I have eaten fish all life – but for many there are challenges; many do not

know how to prepare and cook fish and yet it is incredibly quick and easy. To

help in a small way to address this the National Marine Park, working with

fishers, is producing a set of recipe cards of delicious inexpensive meals. We

are focusing on fish that are landed in Plymouth – there are nearly a hundred

species landed here!

Locally caught fish has a low carbon footprint – far lower than meat and so if

we can encourage a fish-eating habit that is sustainable we can be a little

kinder to the planet. Of course we must also be careful about restoring stock

levels so need to look at the amount we take from the sea so it is there for

generations to come.

Our fish eating habits are likely to change as some species move North

looking for colder water and others come in behind them.

Another part of our fishing project is to teach local people how to fish and we

will be running sessions when the weather improves working in partnership

with the Angling Trust.

I will be going along – but will do my best not to fall in!

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