brixham mother of deep-sea fisheries

Brixham, once known as the ‘Mother of Deep-Sea Fisheries’, is one of the largest fishing ports in the UK

The Brixham harbour is located south-west of England, in the county of Devon in the southern sector of Tor Bay facing the bay of Torquay.

The town of Brixham looks out onto the English Channel which lies between the mainland of the UK and Continental Europe. With the Brixham harbour being part of Tor Bay, also known as the English Riviera, it is a popular destination for tourist and locals due to its tight knit towns that offer splendid resorts, beautiful beaches, accommodations, and recreational activities for all ages.

Brixham harbour is rich in history from archaic warships of the Vikings to Sir Frances Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind, that attacked a Spanish ship in 1588. A replica of the ship seats at the harbour for all to climb aboard and explore. The foundation of the port started 1803 and was completed 1804.

In the past, Brixham was known as the ‘Mother of the Deep-Sea Fisheries’ and also held the title as UK’s largest harbour in England, a title it still holds today.

Hundreds of fishing boats use the harbour and fish are still traditionally sold along the quayside of the port.

Brixham lays claim to being the fishing town that invented the trawler. It also lays claim to aiding other ports to establish their fishing commerce in Grimsby, Hull, and Lowestoft.

One of the major festivals that takes place in Brixham is the Fish Stock, along with the Brixham Pirate Festival and Brixfest.

Jim Portus, MBE, a son of Brixham is one of the organisers behind the event.

It was a pleasure to engage with Jim about his hometown Brixham, and the tremendous impact he has made in the Brixham harbour and the community.

Along with organising festivals and running marathons for his favourite charities, Jim is the chief executive manager of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, (SWFPO). He is the awardee of the 2020 MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) award for his great accomplishments and charity to the community.

At a young age, Jim was drawn to the sea, and it too was beckoning Jim to come upon its’ waters and see what it has to offer to him. Thus, Jim started his humble beginnings at sea in merchant service as a Merchant Navy in Brixham. After being in the merchant service for twelve years and due to an injury, he left the service and tried to find work ashore. Because of the difficulty of finding work ashore, Portus decided to go back to school and received a bachelor’s degree in Nautical Science.

After obtaining his degree, he landed his first job as a fisheries inspector which entailed, “issuing licenses to the owners of fishing vessels, but also regulating the vessels.” Later on, Jim raised to rank as the lead investigator and prosecutor for the fish industry. By 1989, he was offered a different job position from being a prosecutor to a representative role and support of the fishermen. This is what he is currently doing as the executive manager of SWFPO. He helps fishermen, whether through financial and marketing support, defending fishermen, or conducting fundraiser for the Fishermen Mission, for fishermen families in need. He finds this job rewarding from both ends, helping individuals in one hand and continuously being near the sea on the other hand.

Through Jim’s personal account of his hometown Brixham and its’ rich history, our Assistant Editor, Junie Joseph got a chance to relish Brixham’s great contribution to its home country and the world. Brixham’s port grew substantially during the days of sails or also known as the “Age of Sails.” It was a period during the 18th and 19th century where the sea was dominated by sailing ships due to international trade and naval warfare. The port also grew organically because of the characteristic of its geographical location, “with shallow sandy seabed and a fairly gentle sloping,” flat fish species like Dover sole, Lemon sole, Turbot, Brill, and Angler fish are abundant. Portus states, “…these fish are very popular. They’re very valuable to the economy.”

The Brixham port is also known as the “mother port for trawling.” Beam trawling was invented in Brixham ending in the 19th century. Jim went into details expressing, “The fleet was using wooden poles to keep and keep the trawl nets open so that the net could be towed slowly along the seabed, before the invention of engines and well, steam power initially.” This new invention in Brixham influenced many fishing port communities in its’ vicinity and the world, making the laborious task of fishing more effective. Some of these fleets have gain the name “heritage fleet” and is part of the tourist attraction today.

Speaking of tourism, Brixham offers great accommodations and restaurants to its visitors and locals. One is the high-end hotel that is walking distance to the harbour called the Quayside hotel. Another hotel is the Berry Head hotel, which was home to the famous lyricist Henry Francis Lyte, who wrote the famous hymn “Abide with me.” There is plethora of guess houses that are very popular in Brixham for holiday. As for eateries, Brixham have high quality seafood restaurants on the quayside and some restaurants are own by the trawlermen themselves, so a person knows that they are getting the best quality seafood.

Lastly, with fishing being of great importance to the locals, we cannot forget about the various fishing festivals that takes place at the port. One of the festivals is called the Fish Stock festival that involves live music and savory seafood. Jim was the manager for ten years and hopefully plan to revive it in 2022 due to Covid. There is also the annual trawler race, a quayside festival that everyone delights in. “They dressed up the boats with flags, bunting lights preparing to have on board barbecues and everybody, letting their hair down.” Last but not least, there is the Pirate Festival, which is a “tongue and cheek and very much is a parody of historic activity.” People dress up as pirates and enjoy themselves for the day. The replica of Francis Drake’s Golden Hind in the port gets taken over by “pirates” for the occasion. Currently, due to Covid these festivities are on a hold until further notice.

Brixham harbour has a lot to offer to its locals, neighbouring communities, and the world.

As Jim mentioned in the interview, the future is bright for Brixham.

With the fishing industry moving towards environmental sustainability such as finding efficient ways to fish and minimizing the negative effects to the ocean’s ecosystem, it is a win-win situation for Brixham and all fishing ports.

by Junie Joseph – Assistant Editor

Brixham Harbour – the Mother of Deep-Sea Fisheries

by editor time to read: 7 min