Graham Doswell: Eastbourne Fishermen CIC

Graham Doswell is a third generation fisherman in from Eastbourne. The 72 fishermen who comprise the fleet of Eastbourne formed a Community Interest Company in 2013 in order to be able to purchase the quay they land their fish onto, which had been earmarked for property development, to secure their future.

After a long battle and a convoluted and drawn-out funding application, the fishermen have been offered grant funding towards the infrastructure they want to build on the quayside.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a fisherman. I used to fish with my father and my grandfather before that from beach launch boats.

What are you trying to do at Eastbourne harbour?

Seventy-two fishermen and 30 working vessels formed a community interest company in October 2013, with a view to purchase the land at the harbour and building facilities on it.

We put it to the council and the residents that we wanted to build net sheds, a fish market, processing plant and retail outlet, but they will not sell us the land until the funding is in place.

When was the moment you decided to do this?

To start with, we always fished from boats launched from the beach. Then 25 years ago we were invited to go into the harbour at Eastbourne. Quite a few of the fisherman from Coombe in the East to Eastbourne in the West moved into the harbour with the promise that they would build the infrastructure for us in return for supporting the Harbour Bill.

We kept asking when that would happen, and we were getting fobbed off. The harbour was owned by Sovereign and it got sold to Premier Marinas. Premier had no idea of what was promised, so we were stuck with what we got.

Then in 2013 we had a letter saying we needed to move the fishing gear off the land. We asked what was going on and they said they were going to develop it. We would have been out there within a year and a half.

We had a meeting with the fishermen and decided to try and fight, especially since we were promised a permanent mooring if we supported the Harbour Bill. We’ve gone from being given notice to the position we are in now, where we have planning permission, the funding in place and there’s just a few ends to tidy up and we should be up and running with it.

What’s been your proudest moment?

Today [July 12, 2017] is a turning point where it’s all coming together for us. I spoke to the Marine Management Organisation about their informal offer of 80 per cent. We put the application in for a final sum of money from [the Government’s] Growing Places fund. I’m pretty confident.

It’s such a relief. With that and the other funding that we’ve managed to get it’s looking like a really strong possibility.

What’s been the hardest moment?

Negotiating for the land purchase, to get Carillion to save the land. We forced them in a way, through public support and council support, and through holding them to task on what we were promised in the first place.

“When you talk to big companies, people leave and promises can be forgotten.”

When you talk to big companies, people leave and promises can be forgotten. We were naive in thinking people were of their word. They haven’t made it easy for us. It was hard to get the support to start with to get it kicked off. It was looking like we were going to get chucked out. To get from that to a situation where we are in with a chance of doing something, is amazing.

What kept you going?

It would have been a real case of injustice against the fishermen if we just rolled over and said we would sell our businesses after generations.

One or two would have moved to other harbours and that would have been the end of a long history of fishing in this area. We have enough problems with the EU and quotas, let alone this.

They promised us that we would have safe mooring in the harbour if we supported the Harbour Bill and it was only with the support of the fishermen that it got through. They promised us that, and right’s right.

What’s next?

We should hear about the Growing Places fund in November. If we don’t get that, we still have other funding opportunities in place.

But this just came up and it would make it so much easier for us, it’s absolutely tailored to what we need.

How did you vote and why?

I voted Leave. All the fishermen voted to leave. There was a flotilla of fishing boats on the Thames and along the Embankment. We got support from the public then. It was quite a proud day and we felt that we could win the day. I’d like to think that turned the tide.

“It got to the stage where you couldn’t make a living.”

My family has been fishing since before we joined the EU. For quite a few years the common fisheries policy didn’t affect us but over time it came to bear that we were regulated by the EU. It’s so unfair. We have some amazing fishing grounds, really productive, but our fishing efforts were curtailed, we had to tie up and stay ashore and there would be other fishing groups fishing off the shore.

It got to the stage where you couldn’t make a living.

How will the result impact what you do?

The potential is absolutely fantastic. The inshore fleet could get back to being a huge producer of fine fish.

What people don’t take into consideration is that our fish stock in the UK, a huge percentage of that is taken by the EU vessels and the UK boats only get a percentage of the fish.

That’s an infinite resource. If the stocks are fished sustainably, they reproduce and the stocks stay level. When you have the rest of the EU taking huge proportions of that, I don’t see how we can manage it. We need to manage our waters again.

Because I live near the beach and the area is on my doorstep, we’ve always looked after it. It’s done the fishermen and their families proud. But these last 20 years it’s just got tighter and tighter. Let’s hope we can reverse that. We have such a diverse range of fish and shellfish off our shores.

What advice would you give to someone trying to do something similar?

Just be determined – if you know you’re on the right side. We were trying to take people to task on their promises, we didn’t understand that they were just trying to get things past. We took them at their word and held them to it.

Just be determined – if you know you’re on the right side.

What does community mean to you?

In fishing we’re all competing for the same fish and lobsters, and it’s easy to fall out with the man that’s moored next to you.

But over and above that, we have a very strong community where if it really comes down to it, someone you had an argument with the week before will help.

Fishing is such a difficult occupation. Quota issues aside, it’s a very physical job, we’re battling the weather, and other fishermen know it’s not easy. Generally speaking there is a great deal of respect for one another.

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