My cousin Bill led me into fishing when I was 17. We talked about having a boat because we’d always been on the sea as nippers. I was working on a farm at the time and I thought, if I’m going to go fishing I’ve got to get some experience. So I went to Swanage and met up with this fisherman, Maurice Lane, who was quite a character and he said, “Yes you can come over for the summer,” which I did.That summer, Maurice’s partner broke his leg. He had Polio. So I stayed all the winter and then I ended up staying two years with him. He was a hard character and he had no fear of the sea whatsoever. He was a good teacher and when it came to having a boat of our own and applying for a grant, my cousin Bill’s people put the money in but I put the experience in and we had a boat built down at Appledore.We started by catching lobster and crab. We did quite well but the trouble was, Bill didn’t want to work. It got to the stage when I had a couple of kids, well at least one, and I had to work. So when I had the opportunity to buy the boat off Bill, I took it.I used to make my own lobster pots out of wire and buy hoops that the French used to make barrels with. Matt Harvey, down at Newlyn, used to import them, because he dealt with the French a lot. In those days, and it’s the one remarkable difference between those days and now, we were still using natural materials. The ropes were manila and sisal and because they were all natural, they used to rot. We used to have them tarred and dip them in Cuprinol and all the rest of it, but you couldn’t fish like we are today, in the winter. Then synthetic ropes started to come out and that was a revolution, not only here, but around the World because they didn’t rot and they were ten times stronger. There weren’t the markets there are today. When I was fishing with Maurice we used to take our lobsters up to Southampton to a pub called the Rising Sun and for the cruise liner trade. The lobster fishing around the coasts of Britain was a cottage industry, done in the summer time. That’s when the visitors wanted lobster in the pub. In the winter there wasn’t any lobster because you couldn’t do it. The gear wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t stand the winter gales.
When my wife and I were about 43, we found a house in the Western Gazette and moved to West Bay. We wanted a change. I’d got fed up with big boat crew problems and the tides up in Studland used to drive me nutty.I didn’t really intend to go fishing again and the lot down here were terribly old fashioned, they really were. We were doing this and that, but there wasn’t enough work to keep us going. And then I looked down at West Bay and thought, I reckon there’s a lobster to be caught off here and we bought a boat in Penzance and we towed it home. Sea Dragon it was called. It’s still about. We see her often when we’re in Newlyn. I did really well and so I had my boat the Gillian S built. My wife Gill opened up a fish restaurant in our barn. I caught the fish and Gill sold it. When I first started at West Bay, I didn’t have a clue where the ground was. I put some pots down, and my pal from Swanage came with me to haul them and I think we had ten or 15 lobsters. He said, “You haven’t made a bad mistake here, have you?” I put some pots out two or three miles on what we call, The Big Ledge. I was out there, one fine day, all at peace with the world and I had three strings of pots there when I saw these big boats coming over the horizon and I thought, “What’s going on here then?” And it was 16 of these big Brixham scallopers. And the bastards went right through my gear.I got in front of one of them with a floating rope and steadied him up for an hour and from then on, I was at war with scallopers. Fortunately I was on the Sea Fisheries Committee who controlled the waters at the time. And in this particular area, which goes as far as Lyme Regis, we got the new 12 metre bylaw in place which excluded boats of more than 15 metres. So we got the scalloprs kicked out which left us with some 12 metre boats, which weren’t really much of a problem at that time. So I had a few years fishing up here, quite peaceful. You used to get a bit of trawling activity up East, but if you didn’t put your pots in a daft place, you didn’t get trawled up. Then all of a sudden scallops started booming and the big boats started creeping in again. They didn’t give a damn or care and they were just about getting up everybody’s nose. I always remember, just out here, there were eight of them here one week, up and down, up and down. Scratching the ground all to pieces. We put together a bit of a dossier; photographs and what not and went to No.10 with them. We showed them the gear. We showed them the damage the scallopers had done. Well three months later we had our ring protected area. It was about 60 square miles from Beer, down through to off Burton Bradstock. Then we managed to get an extension right the way from Burton Bradstock to Abbotsbury, which was another 30 square miles. Ever since, the fishing has slowly picked up within the marine protected area. We are all small boats and it’s working very well. Donald, does a lot of netting. Pete does potting and they do the cuttlefish in the spring. Each does things his own way. We’re not big enough to interfere with one another. We’re a good community. We all help one another out when we can. That’s how it should be.