Highlands & Islands

How a motorbike racer turned to selling fish

Image copyright Magnus Houston
Image caption Magnus Houston in action at the height of his racing career

Ten years ago Magnus Houston, of Inverness, was living his dream racing motorbikes, before a crash put him in hospital and ended his career in motor sports.

But his need to feel the rush of adrenaline that racing had given him was undiminished and led him first to rock climbing, then sky diving - and then, less obviously, to becoming a creel fisherman.

Since he was a boy, Magnus had loved motorbikes.

By the time he was 24 he was riding for Suzuki GB and racing in an event called the GSXR Cup.

Magnus had come off bikes before and was used to scrapes, bumps and bruises but his final, big crash left him having to learn to walk again.

During his recovery he needed a wheelchair and then crutches to move around.

"At the time I was also trying to work out what I would do with myself," says Magnus. "I decided I wanted to take up cycling and before I was walking again I went into a bike shop in Inverness."

The shop is run by brothers Kenny and Roddy Riddle, competitive cyclists, who are friends of Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy.

Magnus says: "The first time they saw me I was in a wheelchair and the next time I went in I was on crutches. They must have been thinking 'what's your story'?"

The Riddles eventually got that "story" out of Magnus.

Image copyright Magnus Houston
Image caption In his pursuit of an adrenaline rush, Magnus took up creel fishing

Magnus says: "Because of my mechanical background they offered me a job in the shop fixing bikes."

But he still hankered for a regular dose of adrenaline.

He tried to return to racing motorbikes but had to use a push button gear changer and be lifted on to his bike.

Magnus then thought about competitive go-karts before settling into rock climbing. He was able to quickly improve his grade of climbing by buddying up with an elite climber.

When his climbing partner left Inverness for Glasgow, Magnus decided to take up sky diving. He did an intensive course in Spain where he met some base jumpers and set his heart on taking up the extreme sport himself.

Forrest Gump

And then on a trip to Kylesku in Sutherland he decided to do something completely different.

He made the trip with his then-girlfriend-and-now-wife, Fiona, a former Inverness Caledonian Thistle physiotherapist who now runs her own business, Physio Inverness.

Magnus says: "Kylesku is a beautiful part of the world.

"We went there to visit one of Fiona's friends whose husband is a creel fisherman.

"He took me out in his lobster boat and I started thinking that maybe I could do this. I had never thought about fishing or been on a fishing boat before.

"I loved the bike shop but I thought that I could try creel fishing and if it didn't work out I could try to get my job back, or find work doing something else."

Magnus bought a creel boat and watched dozens of YouTube videos relevant to fishing.

He says: "I learned how to splice a rope and tie knots. I tried to learn as much as I could before going out to sea."

When he did eventually go out to sea, Magnus admits to learning some hard lessons.

Image copyright Magnus Houston
Image caption The former professional bike racer says his first forays at sea were tough

"I went out in February," says Magnus. "Between February and June the sea temperature is at its coldest and shellfish move into deeper water.

"It was a wee bit like the film Forrest Gump, when he first tries shrimp fishing and all he's pulling up are car number plates and other rubbish."

Over the colder months, Magnus honed his fishing skills and gained knowledge of the best conditions for catching shellfish such as crabs and langoustine.

With his increasing success with catches, an idea formed to market his fish to UK restaurants rather than add it to the thousands of shellfish Scotland exports abroad.

For the past two years Magnus has been focused on running a fish merchant business. He sold his creel boat and it is now used to catch wrasse, a fish that acts as a natural pest control in fish farms.

Image copyright Magnus Houston
Image caption Magnus and Fiona Houston

One part of the business involves supplying hoteliers and restaurants, while the other called Fishbox involves delivering mixed selections of fresh fish and shellfish to households across the country.

There are more than 1,000 subscribers to Fishbox, which uses seafood that does not meet the size that supermarkets demand.

Magnus says: "All of our seafood is sourced from small, independent boats with reduced time at sea, meaning a higher quality of fish and also mixed catches.

"Fishbox is like fishing itself - you never know what you are going to get.

"It can never be guaranteed what will be in the box because bad weather can mean that something can't be provided.

"Subscribers are asked three things: what fish they 'love', 'like' and 'dislike'. We will always try and get them what they love, but if that is not available then you will receive what they like, but never what they dislike."

He adds: "I now get a buzz from trying to work out the logistics of getting fresh fish that meet the needs of customers from Orkney to Devon and everywhere in between."

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