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The Cornish fishing industry today

Mevagissey demersal trawler Valhalla landing at Newlyn, Photo Laurence Hartwell ©


Fishing is important to Cornwall in many ways, culturally, socially, and economically and fishing today continues to provide a substantial economic contribution and provider of employment in the region.
Cornish fishing is ever evolving, adapting on a daily basis, with our small inshore fishing fleet using multiple different types of fishing gear to target different fish. The larger boats are adapting too , with reductions in both power and employment within the fleet, echoing similar situations around the UK’s coasts. 
In the 1990’s advances in technology and power increased the efficiency of boats to catch fish. This combined with lack of scientific input and a reluctance to follow the scientific advice with suitable fisheries management led to overfishing and declines, if not complete crashes, in many fish species. Including mackerel, crawfish, hake and sole in Cornish waters, and famously cod in the North Sea. 
Global positioning systems (GPS) increased efficiency, enabling fishers to accurately return to good fishing grounds and fish much closer to known hazards such as rocks and wrecks. Manmade fibres such as polypropylene fishing net for trawls and monofilament gill nets have also revolutionised the efficiency of fishing gear.
There remains a significant number of large, high-powered vessels which can catch a huge volume of fish in the UK, for example 75% of the fish landed in the UK in 2021 was from vessels over 24 metres, despite these vessels making up only 4% of the UK’s fishing fleet (MMO, 2021). The gross tonnage of vessels in the UK fleet has remained relatively stable since 1991, however, the power (kW) of the fleet and the number of boats, is on a continuous and steady decline (MMO, 2021). The over 10m fleet has declined by 43% since 2003. This is likely due to a combination of factors, most prominent being the decommissioning carried out by the government between 2001 and 2003, quota challenges, coastal squeeze and increasing running costs.

Figure 1. Change in effort graph from the MMO 2021 UK Sea Fisheries Statistics report. 

Multi purpose inshore fishing vessel Pride of Cornwall, Photo by Laurence Hartwell ©




The Cornish Fleet

How does the size of boat change fishing?

In the UK fishing vessels are separated into small, inshore boats, sometimes called day boats, and larger, offshore boats. Small boats are categorised by being 10 metres or less and have significantly less gross tonnage and less kw power than larger boats.   Over 10m boats supplied 85.5% of fish (live weight) to Cornish ports in 2021, with 10m and under boats supplying the other 14.5% (MMO, 2021). Large boats land more fish as they are able to fish in worse weather and for longer periods than small boats, this is important for many markets to ensure a constant supply of fish. Small boats vulnerability to weather and sea conditions constrains their days at sea, a natural form of management. In the UK 80% of the fleet is 10 metres and under (MMO, 2021).

The inshore boats can only go so far offshore, and therefore work a variety of ‘grounds’ (this means different areas of the sea, that may contain different habitats) and will likely work a variety of gear to match this, often changing from nets, to handlines and traps. Under 10m trawlers can also change their gear more easily than offshore trawlers, adapting from beam to otter and even dredge gear (Please click here to learn more about different fishing gears).

The Cornwall Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (CIFCA) 2009 survey of boats and ports revealed that there were 581 registered boats. Of these, 83% were 10m or smaller. There were 867 crew members employed on the boats, and of this number 67% were employed by boats 10m or smaller. The inshore fleet employs more people, relative to the amount of fish caught. For example, the Scottish fleet has a 50 per cent higher capacity that the English fleet, but employs 641 fewer fishers. This demonstrates that fleets with a higher proportion of large boats require fewer fishers while having a higher capacity (MMO, 2021). 

UK wide trends in 2021 show a higher value for fish caught from small, inshore boats than larger boats. This is because the fish is often fresher, landed in smaller quantities and often using more selective gear leading to better quality fish. Consumers can also drive the demand for fish caught using more sustainable methods. 


Figure 2. Taken from MMO 2021 UK Sea Fisheries Statistics report, describes the value of catch against the size class of vessels in UK. 

Landings in Cornwall 

There are almost 40 harbours in Cornwall with fishing boats operating out of them. The largest is Newlyn, followed by Mevagissey and Padstow, right down to the smallest such as Sennen and St. Agnes (MMO, 2021). Newlyn is not only the largest port in Cornwall, but the largest in England, in terms of landings. 
In 2022 Newlyn was the 8th largest port (an increase from 11th in 2021) in the UK, based of weight of live catch of UK vessels, with 16,145 tonnes. By value of landings, Newlyn is the the 4th largest in the UK (increased from 5th in 2021) with landings valued at £37.9m in 2022, increasing from £31.2m in 2021. Looking back to 2009 when Newlyn was ranked the 13th largest UK port, based on live weight of catch, and 6th based on value of landings, we can see that landings into Newlyn are increasing, despite the reduction in fleet size and power. The higher ranking of Newlyn for value compared to live weight demonstrates the high value of fish that is landed into Newlyn. 
In 2021 16, 349 tonnes of fish was landed into Cornish ports, at a value of £43.9 million. 
Of that £43.9m, £34.7m was landed by the over 10m fleet and £9.1m was landed by the 10 metre and under fleet. 
Figure 3. Landings by weight and gear into Cornish ports in 2021 (MMO, 2021). 
For the 10 metre and under fleet in Cornwall traps have the highest value, followed in order by gill and entangling nets, hooks and lines, trawls and dredges. 
In the over 10 metre fleet the highest value gear is trawls, followed by dredges, gill and entangling nets, traps, surrounding nets, seine nets and hook and line. 
In 2021 gill and entangling nets landed the most fish (live weight in tonnes) into Cornish ports, followed by trawls, surrounding nets, traps, dredges, hooks and lines and seines (this measurement does not include bycatch).  
In terms of the highest value landings (based on sum of value of landed fish for each gear type) trawls take the top spot, followed by gill and entangling nets, traps, hooks and lines, dredges, surrounding nets and finally seine nets. 
The movement up the ranking when compared by value and not weight, by traps and hook and line gear indicates the high value of the fish, likely due to a combination of factors including the type of fish landed, condition of fish upon landing (fresher and undamaged) and consumer demand for more sustainably caught fish. 
Gill and entangling nets were responsible for 30% of the landings in Cornwall and trawls for 27%. Despite ongoing adaptations to the both the net and trawl fleets to improve their sustainability, they remain two of the least sustainable methods of fishing due to habitat damage and bycatch (fishing gear page). 
As the over 10m fleet was responsible for 85% of the fish landed, a large amount of the trawl and gill net landings will be from these large boats. They tend to fish mostly for ‘quota species’ (Quota allocations are primarily based on Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) units. These are mainly held by vessels in the sector based on their fishing track record of catching quota species), such as hake, haddock and sole, with a huge range of approximately 40 bycatch species. Sole and monkfish were the most valued landings. 
The two species with the highest landings by weight  in Cornwall in 2021 were pilchards (also known as Cornish sardines) and edible crab. 
The sardine ring net fleet has grown in recent years and there are now 15 sardine ring netters which fish for pilchards in Cornish waters from late summer through to mid-winter. This fishery has achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation, ‘Cornish Sardines’ which has increased their value and demand. In this fishery a large volumes of fish are caught due to the shoaling nature of the fish. You can read more about Cornish sardines here
Brown crab landings to Cornish ports are also very important. As a non-quota species, with no limit on the amount that can be fished, and with a high market value this species is being fished heavily. The huge demand for crab and increase in large vessels potting has been a worry for Cornwall Good Seafood Guide and something we hope to see improved in the near future (correct as of March 2023). 
In the 10m and under fleet, crabs and mackerel took the two top spots for most landed species, with lobsters and brown crabs being the highest value species landed to Cornish ports in 2021. Mackerel is a really important fish for the small boats and schemes such as line caught tag scheme (South West Handline Fishermen's Association) have helped improve prices for sustainably caught fish in Cornwall, whilst also increasing transparency in the supply chain. 
Figure 4. Live weight and value of 15 top Cornish species landed into Cornish ports in 2021 (MMO data). 

Importing and Exporting Fishery
The UK is a net importer of fish, despite being an island nation and having access to some of the most diverse and productive fishing waters on the planet. A lot of fish which is caught by our local fishers is transported abroad, and a lot of the fish the British public like to eat is transported into the UK. This is because, in general, people like the ‘big five’ species, cod, salmon, prawns, tuna and haddock. Some of these aren’t found in our waters, and when they are people often don’t want to pay the price it costs to fish them, when it can be flown in cheaper from countries with less management of stocks and often having less rigorous human rights regulations.
In Cornwall we are fortunate to have a wide variety of sustainable, locally caught seafood landed to our harbours and we are working to try and encourage people who eat seafood to choose local sustainable seafood to support local fishers and reduce our carbon footprint. 
If you want to learn more about seafood consumption the UK this recent report carried out by Seafish is a good start. 
Farmed fish make up a large part of the UK seafood production, with farmed salmon valued at £932million in 2020. Farmed finfish, such as salmon, have a number of ethical and environmental issues which you can read more about here (link to page on website). In Cornwall aquaculture is restricted to bivalves, with mussels and oysters both being grown. Compared to finfish aquaculture, bivalve aquaculture is extremely environmentally friendly, helping to purify water, provide shelter for many fish species and has minimal carbon output, whilst delivering a better nutrient score than some other forms of protein. 

Figure 5. Nutritional scores for protein sources plotted agains relative greenhouse emissions. Bianchi, M., Hallström, E., Parker, R.W., Mifflin, K., Tyedmers, P. and Ziegler, F., 2022. Assessing seafood nutritional diversity together with climate impacts informs more comprehensive dietary advice. Communications Earth & Environment, 3(1), p.188.

Fisheries Management in Cornwall 
Following the UK leaving the European Union, the regulation and management of fish stocks in our seas is changing. The guidance for how the management of our fish stocks will change is largely set out in the Fisheries Act 2020, where it is described that fisheries activities (including aquaculture) will be managed to be environmentally sustainable in the long term, ‘Managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits and contribute to the availability of food supplies’, so the fishing capacity of fleets is such that fleets are economically viable, but do not overexploit marine stocks.
Also included in the Fisheries Act 2020 is a guarantee of using the precautionary approach, in which the absence of sufficient scientific information is not used to justify postponing or failing to take management measures to conserve target species, associated or dependent species, non-target species or their environment. 
Management will be based on an ecosystem-based approach, where bycatch is reduced, in particular of individuals below minimum conservation reference size (usually the size an animal has to reach before it starts reproducing), adverse effects of fisheries on the climate are reduced and scientific data is collected, shared and decisions are based on such data. You can read the full details here.
These changes are being implemented over 6 years (until June 2026), with this time period called the adjustment period. During the adjustment period, EU vessels that consistently fished between 6 and 12 nautical miles from UK shores in certain areas between 2012 and 2016 will be able to continue to do so, this also applies to UK vessels in the EU. EU vessels that consistently fished non-quota species in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (out to 200 nautical miles) between 2012 and 2016 will be able to continue to do so, this too applies to UK vessels. 

The EU will transfer 25% of the EU’s fishing rights within UK waters (in terms of value) to the UK between now and June 2026. By the end of this period, the UK will have fishing rights to around two-thirds of the stocks in UK waters. This will likely only increase quota a small amount in Cornwall, for a small number of large vessels. 
The goals above will be drafted and organised through a range of fisheries management plans (FMPs) delivered by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the marine management organisation (MMO), Seafish and Policy Lab and implemented via regional inshore fisheries and conservation authorities (IFCAs).  In July 2023, public consultations for six "frontrunner" FMPs were launched, consisting of:
  • Crab and Lobster
  • Whelks in English Waters
  • King Scallop
  • Bass
  • Channel demersal Non-quota Stocks (NQS)
  • Southern North Sea and Eastern English Channel Mixed Flatfish

A total of 43 FMPs are now in production with various estimates for completion dates, mostly in the next two to four years.

Ongoing successful management measures in Cornish waters include the Western Waters/ Sole Recovery Zone (7e), an area where fishing effort is limited by the number of days at sea, or a combination of power and days at sea called kW days at sea. The Mackerel Box, an area closure which prevents pelagic trawling and purse seining around the Cornish coast to protect stocks of mackerel and pilchards, and the Trevose box. See Cornwall IFCA for further information on regulations and byelaws. 

Figure 6. Area and effort in Sole Recovery Zone taken from MMO, 2021.


Fisheries Act 2020 (
Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) | Seafish
Fisheries Management Plans | Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (
UK sea fisheries annual statistics report 2021 - GOV.UK (
Guide to Fish Stock assessment and ICES reference points — Seafish
Bianchi, M., Hallström, E., Parker, R.W., Mifflin, K., Tyedmers, P. and Ziegler, F., 2022. Assessing seafood nutritional diversity together with climate impacts informs more comprehensive dietary advice. Communications Earth & Environment, 3(1), p.188.


Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is underpinned by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide. The first UK consumer guide to sustainable seafood. For more information visit

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