A Day In The Life

Bringing in the catch with a local crew.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust believe it is possible to have a productive fishing industry and a healthy marine environment. To develop knowledge and understanding of Yorkshire's shellfishery, especially on the coast from Flamborough to Spurn, Kat Sanders, Living Sea Research and Development Officer, spent time with a local crew from Withernsea.

The shellfish industry on the East Yorkshire coast is the largest in the UK. In 2011 over 1,350 tons of edible crabs and over 454 tons of lobsters were landed. The 73 registered fishing vessels across Holderness provide incomes for over 200 families and contribute £35 million a year to the East Riding economy.

Since 2000, a 'No Trawl Zone' has been designated from Spurn to north of Hornsea, which has given this area of seabed time to thrive and develop into an ideal habitat for crabs and lobsters. These two shellfish are the backbone of Yorkshire's fishing industry.


The crew of the Crazy Cat (John White, Christian Thorpe and Nathan Phillips - pictured above, left to right ) use a variety of techniques to ensure their shellfish catch is of the best possible quality and is collected in an environmentally conscious manner, which in turn helps to ensure the long term viability of the fishermen's livelihoods and protects the marine ecosystem.


Potting is a simple and selective method of fishing. Pots sit on the seabed and are attached together at regular intervals along an anchored line. This assembly is know as a fleet. John White, The Crazy Cat's boss, has 48 fleets, each with each with 15 pots, that are marked at the surface by a brightly coloured buoy.


The minimum landing size of an edible crab is 130mm, a measurement set as a by-law by the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority. John and his crew voluntarily land edible crabs at a minimum size of 140mm to allow them extra time to reproduce and grow. The crew takes time to check the body of every animal landed to ensure that none is soft-shelled.


V-notching helps protect lobsters. A small 'V' is clipped into the tail fin of all lobsters with one claw, lobsters over 3lbs which are unsuitable for market, and all berried females ie with eggs. An animal cannot be landed legally while its V-notch remains. It can take two years for the notch to grow out, which gives those lobsters a chance to reproduce and ensures a better quality product for market, a better price for the fishermen and a future for the lobster population.


Escape gaps in the pots are a voluntary measure to promote good fishery management. These small plastic rectangles are fitted into the end of a pot and allow undersized lobsters and non-target species to escape. All John's 700 pots have escape gaps and a 'soft bottom' (plastic board with holes), which prevents damage to animals' legs when the post are hauled. Over 80% of Yorkshire's lobsters are exported to Europe, since the local market is limited. The Trust hope to discover the reasons for the poor local market.


A big frustration for John is that no identity is bestowed upon his catch, so there is no recognition of the environmentally conscious manner in which he fishes or the quality this affords his catch. On landing at Withernsea, his lobsters are put in crates, driven to Bridlington, sorted and prepared for export. His catch is combined with the hundreds of other lobsters. With the exception of Winghams fishmonger in Withernsea, which buys John's crab for local sale, the rest of his catch has limited traceability.

A short film made to accompany this article can be viewed at:

This work receives financial support from the European Fisheries Fund awarded by the Holderness Fisheries Local Action Group.





A snapshot of the coast
On the sands