This is a method of trawl fishing that has a very long history. Although its precise origins are unclear, trawling came to Brixham during the days of sail, and the original method of using a beam instead of trawl doors to hold the trawl’s mouth open is still used.
A great deal has changed, and today’s beam trawlers owe more to the mainly Dutch shipyards that have pioneered building these specialised fishing vessels. The nature of beam trawling, with the long bars holding open the two nets that each trawlers tows, is such that the fishing gear has a low opening of only around a metre above the sea bed. This makes it an ideal method for catching bottom-dwelling species, including sole, plaice, turbot, brill, monkfish and cuttlefish, while avoiding high-swimming species such as sea bass.
Beam trawls are rigged with either tickler chains stretching from one side of the trawl mouth to the other, a method used more widely on the more open grounds of the North Sea, or a stone mat, a network of chains over the trawl’s opening designed to prevent large stones from entering the gear while also disturbing fish that are then caught in the net. Electrical (pulse) beam trawling is not used by the Brixham fleet and this is a fishing method limited to areas of the North Sea.
Beam trawling has often been a controversial method, but today’s fishing gears bear only a passing resemblance to those of the past. Brixham’s fishermen in particular have played a leading role in developing beam trawl gear, increasing its selectivity while also minimising the effects of trawl gear on the seabed – as well as having the additional welcome effect of reducing fuel consumption.n the past heavy steel shoes at the end of each beam slid over the seabed, but today rubber wheels are more common. These reduce friction and ground resistance.
During the 2000s fishermen and netmakers in Brixham and a team from CEFAS (the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) carried out a longstanding research initiative, with much of the experimental work done on board Brixham beam trawler Barentszee. The 50% project had the aim of reducing discards by at least half. In fact, the project which ran for several years exceeded its target, showing a reduction in discards of more than 60%.