When the boat comes in

The women of south-west England working in the male-dominated fishing industry.

Sophie Wear

Crew member on a boat out of the Helford River, Cornwall

“There are always those old-fashioned views.

'It's a man thing to do, women don't go fishing.'

I went to buy oilers and riggers.

The guy looked at me like, 'What?'”
“I hate being thought of as a feeble girl.

But physically, as a female, you just can't do the same things.

You can't lift the same stuff.”

“I did get bitten by a hake.

It was a case of: 'Don't put your finger in its mouth.'

And of course, what's the first thing you do?

Their teeth face backwards. It really hurt.”

“Early morning and we're leaving the Helford.

Nothing better. Even when it's rough and windy.

You're out there. It's wild. Totally raw.

I absolutely love it.”

Katherine Joy

Works at Sole of Discretion fish processing in Plymouth, Devon

“I started working in Tesco, and I was there for seven years.

I got multi-skilled on butchery and fish.”

“You hardly see any women at all round here.

A few come up and ask questions.

'What are you doing? What's your job?'”

“We weigh them, de-scale them, fillet them.

Then I portion and package them up.

Then we have a blast freezer in the corner.”

Annie Gilbert

Commercial skipper on the Jurassic Coast from Poole, Dorset

“Ian, my then husband-to-be, asked if I would like to crew for him.

I absolutely loved it.

Since then, I have only missed a couple of days’ fishing in 13 years.”
“The worst bit is the occasionally very long days for very little return.

Sometimes the nets fill up with crabs and weed.

It takes ages to sort them for very small quantities of fish.”
“I've always liked rollercoaster rides so I quite enjoy the rough weather.

As for having no toilet on board, I'm an outdoors girl and not shy.”

“I see beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Dolphins swimming and playing around our boat.

I get to make a living doing something I really enjoy.”

Angela Harrison

Partner at Pengelly Fishmongers in Looe, Cornwall

“My sister Jackie and I are the fifth generation in this business.

We didn’t have a lot of money when we were growing up.

But we had a lot of scallops, crab meat and fish in our fridge!”
“We're at Looe fish market every day.

I’m up at a quarter past five and my sister picks me up.

The fish that’s landed here is second to none.”

“It is quite a man’s world.

You have to be tough on the outside a little bit sometimes.

You also have to be fairly fit. We carry 25kg boxes around.”

“And then there’s scrubbing and filleting.

We process all our fish. Not everyone wants to do that.

If there’s a job going, it can be fairly difficult to fill.”

Tina Hicks

Harbourmaster at Looe, Cornwall

“I’m Cornish born and bred.

My mum came from Polperro and my dad from Looe.”
“I was asked if I wanted to be the 'harbourmaster' or 'harbourmistress'.

We felt 'mistress' produced connotations of short skirts, knee-high boots and suspenders.

But I wear long trousers, big heavy boots and a fluorescent jacket with a hat on.

So we decided to keep it 'master'.”
“I was asked if I wanted to be the 'harbourmaster' or 'harbourmistress'.

We felt 'mistress' produced connotations of short skirts, knee-high boots and suspenders.”
“But I wear long trousers, big heavy boots and a fluorescent jacket with a hat on.

So we decided to keep it 'master'.”

“Years ago the harbourmaster’s role was very visual.

Managing the boats and being out on the quay.

But now there's mechanisation outside and paperwork inside.

It’s not really a physically demanding role any more.”

Lorna Lawrence

Fished on her dad's boat for five years out of the Helford River, Cornwall

“The first year was difficult. The cold on your hands really hurt.

By the second year you barely noticed it.

Your body definitely builds up a tolerance.

The hardest part is getting up at four every morning.”
“You can get observed and questioned by other fishermen:

'So what exactly do you do on the boat?

Wouldn't you rather be in a shop behind the counter?'

But I think many women would be capable if they weren't busy with their families.”
“It's gorgeous out there. Your mind is emptied.

A lot of the time there's nothing - just sea and seagulls.

But I knew I wanted a family and couldn't fish for ever.”

Sheila Taylor

Salmon-netter on the Taw and Torridge rivers, Devon

“My husband goes out in a circle with the net and boat.

I stand on the shore and pull in the net. It’s 200 yards long.”

“We use a 14-foot, clinkered rowing boat. The nets are made of nylon.

If the weather's perfect it's first class, but if the wind is blowing it's very hard work.

And I can't swim.”

“When you first see the fish in the net they’ve got brown-like spots.

But when you bring them in you get that gorgeous silver colour.

They're beautiful. There's nothing nicer.”

Carly Daniels

National Lobster Hatchery's research and development manager, Padstow, Cornwall

“Lobsters are a very charismatic species.

Per weight they're actually the highest value crustacean species in the UK.

They’re very important to the local fishing industry here.”
“Women can play just as big a role as men.

Certainly we now have a lot more female staff at the hatchery.

They go out with local fishermen to release the lobsters into the wild.”
“I certainly didn’t come out of university and think: ‘I’m going to work with lobsters’.

It just happened.

I probably wouldn’t work with any other crustacean - I love them.”