Crabber at Sea
A Day in the Life of a Crabber
Alan Steer has a life most people would think is rather tough: getting up at 3am, on his Dartmouth-moored boat, the Superb-Us, by 4.15am and heading out of the harbour by 4.30am.
Alan uses static pots to catch crab – he works 630 inkwell style pots and these are placed in rows of sixty at set points – so Alan and his one crewman lift all of these in turn over a long day, taking the crabs out, storing them onboard, then re-baiting the pots and putting them back on the seabed, ready to be checked in two days time.
Alan goes out in all weathers. Every time he does he will lift, depending on his catch, between four and five tonnes. He never knows how good the catch will be.
They then head for harbour, unload their catch and return home, normally not till 5.30pm.
He laughs as I suggest this might be considered something of a punishment rather than a fulfilling work experience by most people.
“I’m a third generation fisherman,” said the forty two year-old. “I learnt at the feet of my father, who learnt at the feet of his. My six year-old comes out with me in our small beach boat that we use on our days off to hand haul a few pots around the shore and I hope he learns to love it as I did. It’s a way of life and I don’t think there’s any thing to beat it.”
After his early start in the business, Alan got the best possible education in fishing – first from his father, and then studying at Falmouth in fisheries’ techniques.
“I went under the old YTS scheme – and it was a wonderful education, as a young man it was good to learn another way of doing things, although my father was of course a brilliant fisherman.”
Alan’s boat illustrates his interest in tradition and sustainability – it was his father’s - Tony “Winky” Steer - and was built in 1964. The 45 foot long boat, made of oak and larch, still has the same Gardner 6 LXB engine it had when it was built (one Alan describes as “the Rolls Royce of ship engines”). The boat weighs 30 tonnes and is economical on fuel.
“She’s a wonderful boat and has been all over – my father used to fish off the Channel Islands and Weymouth – but we don’t go that far in her now. We go about two miles off Start Point and have the same places we fish each time. We work with the other fishermen in the area and all keep to our own grounds – they are the same my grandfather fished.”
It’s more than a way of life, it’s clearly a passion for Alan, who is at the forefront of the drive to build an environmentally friendly and sustainable industry for crabbing in the South Hams.
He lives in Beesands with his wife and young family. It’s a small fishing community around the coast from Dartmouth that has a strong fishing heritage. Alan is determined that there will be a fishing industry in the South Hams for him to pass on to his two sons and their generation.
“There are many people who believe that fishing is bad for the sea, but we think we can demonstrate that this industry is caring for the environment and provides much-needed jobs.
“We have been working very hard to give everyone proof how sustainable crabbing is in the South Hams: we fish a small area, we only take the biggest crab from the sea and what we throw back will survive. I’ve caught crabs four or five times during a season, throwing them back undamaged to find them again another day.
“We aren’t plundering the sea, we are taking what is best and leaving the rest to mature and grow. South Devon crab – as the annual Crab Festival celebrates – is just the best you can get and we are proud to bring it in.”
Alan’s enthusiasm comes through as he chats about the job he has been doing since he was 16.
“I just love this job and the life I have and I want to ensure it continues for future generations,” he said. “We don’t do it for the money, but we do it because we enjoy it. It’s a fantastic job.”
First Published August 2012 By The Dart