Hordle angler Rob Blyth-Skyrme on mission to feed locals sustainably caught fish from British seas
AFTER years spent working on wild fisheries across the globe and safeguarding fish stocks, Rob Blyth-Skyrme is now on a mission to make it easier to eat sustainably caught fish from local seas.
The professional angler from Hordle runs Hurst Point Fisheries, providing his customers with fresh line-caught bass from the Solent.
On what he would call a good shift in his 19ft Orkney Fastliner, Rob might catch 50 fish with the aim of delivering them the very same day to those who have pre-ordered – and fish doesn’t come much fresher than that.
“I set out from Keyhaven before dawn – so 4am in the summer,” said the father-of-three, a former deputy chief fisheries advisor. “Bass is a big, aggressive predator so I am looking for rough water areas where its food would be struggling – so rips and currents. Also, underwater features like banks where the water is pushed up and the bass will be waiting for prey just up-current or down-current.
“Bass is a premium product and I want to focus on that and nothing else, but what I don’t want is for it to end up being taken away in a fish hauliers lorry. I want it to go to individuals locally – it’s my fish and I’m proud of it, I want to be able to personally hand it over and I want to hear that positive feedback after they’ve tasted it.”
Britain exports much of the fish it catches, and a lot of the fish we eat is imported from overseas.
“Locally, we export crabs, mainly to Spain and China, our cuttlefish goes to Italy, and we catch and export a huge amount of mackerel,” said Rob.
“We get our cod from Iceland and the Barents Sea off Russia, prawns from Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the North Atlantic, and cans of tuna that come predominantly from the Indian Ocean.
“It’s not that we don’t have good quality fish here on our doorstep,” said Rob. “I would love us to eat more local fish – the plaice and mackerel stock is healthy and we have good sole and bass fisheries locally. We should be taking advantage of that.
“I can catch fish and I can sell them on a fish market miles away, but my challenge is selling it locally, where there is no big market for it.
“As soon as it goes on that lorry it’s mixed into a bigger pool and it loses its localness; it disappears off, gets sent all over the country and is flown around the world.”
Fishmongers and restaurants will take Rob’s bass, but they too have a limited market.
“My challenge is to make my business viable and diversify my customer base,” he continued. “My customers at the moment collect fish from me or I personally deliver, but I’ve also been trialling sending bass, prepped ready for the oven, in the post in wool cool bags that are compostible.
“My customers tell me my bass is among the best fish they’ve had, and it’s really down to freshness. When you buy fish from the supermarket, it may have been on the boat for 10 days before it even arrives at shore, so by the time it’s on the shelf it could be a couple of weeks old already.
“My fish is a premium product and I have a lot of confidence in that product – it was swimming around in the morning and it could be on your plate that evening. People will pay more for it but I would say it is absolutely worth the money.”
A self-confessed “fish geek”, Rob did a PhD in wild fisheries management, and went on to work for the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee Management Body and English Nature – now Natural England – as national fisheries lead.
He and wife Viv also spent time in Hawaii; she as a sea bed habitat mapper and he as a policy consultant. He now carries out environmental audits for fisheries around the world, and has worked in the US, Canada, Russia, Australia and Japan.
“Being a scientist – and I never want to stop doing that – and having experience of the commercial side of fishing, I have a real affinity with the industry,” said Rob. “They are the last hunter-gatherers of our society, the salt of the Earth. They are very observant, very adaptable; they make the best of the opportunities around them. It’s never a case of just going out onto the sea and doing the same things every day.
“There are aspects of fishing that are not great, but this idea that fishermen and women are out to plunder and damage the environment is not the industry I know.
“Over the years I have seen people who really care about their impact on the environment and on fish stocks.
“They believe in fishing and often they want a future for their families – they want and need for fish stocks to be available in the future for their own children.”
Customers may find it difficult to order bass from Rob this late in the season, but to register interest in buying fish or get on the waiting list before he is next on the water, follow him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/hurstpointfish
Alternatively, visit Rob’s website at www.hurstpointfish.com or call him on 01425 620228.