Artisanal fishing? Not so much!

In this edition of our new series of fortnightly sea angling blogs I thought I’d have a crack at the romantically named “artisanal fishing” industry.

The commercial fishing industry, particularly netters working from smaller boats, regularly promote their activities as “artisanal”. Such descriptions serve well to paint their activities as ‘low impact’ or ‘traditional’ and therefore worthy of protection.

If you google the word ‘Artisanal’ you will find:

The adjective “artisanal” is sometimes used in describing hand-processing in what is usually viewed as an industrial process.

The key words are “Traditional”, “by hand” and “non-mechanised”.

I also googled ‘Artisanal fisheries’ and came up with:

Artisanal fisheries are small-scale fisheries for subsistence or local, small markets, generally using traditional fishing techniques and small boats. They occur around the world (particularly in developing nations) and are vital to livelihoods and food security.

In the part of the world where I live (Cornwall), gill netting vessels include modern catamaran hulls with powerful twin four stroke outboards. They have hydraulic conveyor style haulers and are fitted with the latest GPS plotters and sophisticated sonar to find fish. The gear they use will be the latest generation of monofilament gill nets selected for their ultrafine and supple twines. Mono nets only became available in the mid-1970s so by any measurement cannot be called ‘traditional’.


True artisanal fishing – stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka. Modern commercial fishing should not be described as artisanal.

I suspect gill net vessels in France (and elsewhere across the EU) include similarly ultra-modern mechanised and technically efficient vessels.

Now, I understand why industry leaders promote their activities as ‘Artisanal’ in order to secure public sympathy and create the perception that their impact on fishery resources is negligible BUT why are the authorities now using such patently inappropriate language?

In the part of the world where I live (Cornwall), gill netting vessels include modern catamaran hulls with powerful twin four stroke outboards.

There is nothing genuinely ‘artisanal’ with modern commercial fishing methods.

It reminds me of a wildlife film I was watching on TV of an Inuit hunter arguing the case for him to be allowed to hunt walrus as his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather had before him. He made a compelling case saying how he would utilise the whole carcass and it was a tradition that went back many generations to time immemorial. Then the camera panned away from the hunter’s face revealing he was sat in an 8 metre aluminium centre consul boat with a 90 HP four stroke Honda engine and he was holding a high powered hunting rifle complete with telescopic sights. I thought, why doesn’t the journalist ask him whether his great grandfather hunted with such modern equipment and that if the hunter wished to maintain an age old tradition, perhaps he should hunt just as his predecessors used to?

I’m not opposed to progress. I drive a car and when I had a boat I fitted engines, GPS and sonar. I even have GPS & sonar on my kayak!  But neither do I try to pretend I live traditionally and fish artisanally and despite their claims we certainly shouldn’t believe that the commercial fishing industry does.

Malcolm Gilbert | RSA campaigner, sea angler and Conservation Officer for the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers