The tweeting fishermen

For a fine example of fishermen keeping up with the times in the internet age, look no further than Dreckly Fish, a co-operative of three entrepreneurial Newlyn small-boat fishermen who sell their daily catch via Twitter and Facebook.

Francis Harris on the harbourside at Newlyn

The Dreckly trio is Kevin Penney, Francis Harris and Andrew Stevens. At least one of them will go out most days from 3am to 10am, weather permitting, primarily for lobster and crab, although they’ll turn their hand to bass, pollock and mackerel according to season.

On the way back to port, they’ll tweet details of their catch, adding images once it’s landed – if they get the chance. “Sometimes we don’t even have time to post a picture, because we’ve sold it before we get in,” says Francis Harris, who chats with us by the Newlyn harbourside, not far from where his 18-ft boat Guiding Star is moored.

Their catch is snapped up by wholesalers and particularly chefs, such as rising local star Ben Prior of Ben’s Cornish Kitchen in Marazion, Olga Polizzi’s Hotel Tresanton in St Mawes or Rob Allcock at The Long Arms miles away in Wiltshire – he came across Dreckly by tracing back their tag on a particularly impressive lobster and has been a customer ever since.

Dreckly will now courier live lobster and crab all over the UK boxed with cool gel packs and seaweed to keep them moist and cool – a nice touch. “We used wet newspaper at first: old copies of Fishing News,” says Francis. “But the seaweed looks better.” The shellfish emerge so healthy and feisty at the other end “we’ve been accused of supplying lobsters with attitude and crabs on steroids,” he adds with a smile.

Delighted recipient chefs often then tweet themselves to enthuse about the quality of what’s been delivered, perhaps adding how it might appear on the menu for good measure. The result is a transparent supply chain, highlighting quality, care and enthusiasm from end to end, and also helping to spread the word and bring others on board. And people just love it, says Francis. “It’s struck a chord with everyone: the response has been incredible.” Rob Allcock tells him that he now puts out cards on tables explaining who caught the crab on the menu and how, because it makes sales take off.

“It all centres around traceability,” says Kevin Penney, the Dreckly founder. An IT specialist, he sold up his business, travelled the world, got married and finally settled in Newlyn to become a fisherman – living the dream and fishing out of a 21 footer called Bess. His IT knowledge was vital in getting the venture up and running.

“We’d been thinking about doing it for a while and felt the timing is right. Following the horsemeat scandal people want to know where their food comes from. We knew people would find it interesting. This is a way of making what we sell available to more people.”

It also helps them to get a good price for the product, which is what got them started in the first place. “We were so disappointed with the prices we were fetching at market, we decided we had to do something,” says Francis. The Dreckly trio are all passionate about sustainability. They’re members of Seafish’s Responsible Fishing Scheme and the local South West Handline Fishermen’s Association, which allows them to tag the shellfish and fish they catch – and which is always properly handled and iced to keep it in prime condition. But none of that affected what they got paid: “there was always a take it or leave it price.”

A Dreckly Fish “lobster with attitude”: note the RFS tag for traceability on its left claw

The great thing about going direct is that they can sell to people who understand the care that goes into the catch, and the quality that results. Plus the more they get paid, the less they have to catch to make a living, which is good for all-round sustainability: of stocks, the business and the community. “We’re naturally limited because of our methods. We just can’t catch that much. After 20 years targeting crab, I’m catching no less than now than when I started. That says it all. I don’t want to make a fortune; just a living.”

This kind of approach could make a big difference in future, boosting returns for fishermen and demonstrating the financial benefits of responsible fishing in the process. It shows the benefit of marketing, which smarter fisherman are catching on to, says Nick Howell of the Pilchard Works, a local processor. “Traceability is the key. You can find pork from Jack Jones farm and it’ll tell you the breed’s Gloucester Old Spot.” Why can’t good fishermen promote themselves in the same kind of way? “There’s no reason why tagging shouldn’t apply to all fish landed. It separates out the arguments – who is industrial fishing, who is line-caught fishing – and whether their techniques are environmentally friendly.”

“I think a few more more will jump on this idea,” says Francis. Kevin adds: “It’s a model that could be as big as you want it to be: three day boats in Cornwall or 20 trawlers.” As for Dreckly, they recently got EU funding to buy an ice-maker and various other kit, as well as new iPads and iPhones and IT training to go with it. It’s clearly worked. Francis, who when we met him cheerfully admitted that he “couldn’t even send a text” is now tweeting with the best of them. See for yourself @drecklyfish.

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