Meet the 22-year-old Aldeburgh fisherman keeping our inshore fishing heritage alive
PUBLISHED: 13:25 31 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:34 07 August 2018
Sarah Lucy Brown
Suffolk's heritage of inshore fishing is kept alive by just a handful of dedicated fishermen, including young Harry Simper | Words: Linda Duffin - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
Harry Simper, at 22 years old, is the youngest fisherman on Aldeburgh beach by a nautical mile. Few young people want to follow their fathers into a life where the financial rewards are too low to allow them to make their monthly mortgage or rent payments.
The days when hundreds of men would fish for herring off Aldeburgh beach each autumn are long gone, and the catches on the east coast are simply not as rich as in, for example, Cornwall or Scotland.
Today there are just six boats on the beach and Suffolk’s heritage of inshore fishing is in danger of being eroded as fast as its coastline.
The Simpers’ main business is farming, but they have always had boats on the River Deben and Harry left school to work on the family’s mussel and oyster beds. Before long he wanted more. “He got ambitious, he wanted to actually catch decent amounts of fish and go out of the river,” says his father, Jonathan.
“But the trouble with the river is the bar. The Deben Bar is bloody dangerous, frankly.
“It’s the entrance to the river.It’s very shallow at one point and you get the water going from 15-18 feet deep to being three feet deep, then going back out to being 20 feet deep quite soon after, so the rush across the bar is very dangerous.
“And of course the channel changes constantly because it’s shingle. You can go out one day and be perfectly safe and the next day it could be silted up and you can hit the shingle bar. He was finding it very dangerous so we thought we ought to find somewhere safer to work from.”
They applied to Suffolk Coastal District Council for permission to fish from Aldeburgh beach and on their second attempt were successful. Says Jonathan: “I just wrote to them and said, look, the average age of fishermen on the beach is about 58, do you want a future or not?”
The Simpers now have two boats at Aldeburgh, Our Boys and Silver Harvest, which they launch straight from the beach with the aid of a caterpillar tractor. Harry fishes mainly for herring and skate, Dover sole and cod, often single-handed, 12 months a year.
Harry is the first person to admit he wouldn’t be there without the financial backing of his father.
“It’s expensive to set up. I couldn’t have afforded to do it if Dad hadn’t helped. No way. It’s thousands and thousands to even set up a small boat. And the repair bills if you break something are so high,” he says.
Unlike other inshore fisherman, for Harry it isn’t make or break if he fails to land a good catch. The family’s farming interests give him financial security. But make no mistake, Harry is both knowledgeable and passionate about what he does. He lives and breathes fishing.
That passion and knowledge won him the Young Fisherman of the Year Award in 2016. The competition, run by the industry newspaper The Fishing News, celebrates the hard work and successes of the UK and Ireland’s commercial fleets. Father and son are still a bit stunned that Harry sailed off with the prize.
“We’re just tiny little fishermen on the Suffolk coast, and there are these huge great boats in Scotland – enormous great multi-million pound boats – and there’s a few, not many, but a few very young men working very big boats because their family has got very big boats,” Jonathan says.
“They go aboard at 16 or 17 and by the time they’re 21 or 22 they’re skippering it, so you expect the stars of the scene to win the prizes.”
“It was a complete shock,” says Harry. “My girlfriend Hannah put me up for it.” At the awards ceremony the winners’ boats were shown on a big screen to the assembled audience.
“Some of the other people who were put up for it were skippers of massive trawlers, multi million pound boats, they must have thought ‘what is that?’ when they saw the picture of my boat,” Harry remembers. “It wasn’t even a particularly good picture!”
The family farming business holds no interest for Harry. “I just like fishing,” he says simply. So will he still be doing it when he’s his father’s age?
“Oh, definitely, yeah. It’s a lifelong thing.” Hooked.