Tony Watkins runs a tight ship. Having been a fisherman since his teens, he likes everything to be in its place and for the boat to be clean and secure.
‘It’s your home,’ he said. ‘We spend more time on the boat than we do at home, so it has to be clean and tidy. Health and hygiene are important,’ he said, adding that this extends to every part of the trawler, as it applies as much to the crew’s wellbeing as it does to the quality of the catch – so he sets high standards and expects them to be met.
Tony comes from Shoreham on the Sussex coast, and started his fishing career there, before coming to Brixham more than twenty years ago – and has been there ever since. He says he has been ‘all round the fleet,’ and spent more than ten of those years skippering a beam trawler for Neil Watson.
The 22.18 metre Jacoba has some history behind it and is something of a rarity as a UK-built beam trawler. It was built in 1988 as the Seafalke for a Newhaven fishing company, and was highly successful primarily as a scalloper for many years, before changing ownership several times and finally finding a new home with Waterdance.
Method: Beam Trawler
Call Sign: MKMJ5
Registered Port: Brixham
Home Port: Brixham
Port Letters: BM77
Overall Length: 22.18m
Year Of Build: 1998
Country Of Build: UK
Date Into Service: 28/09/1988
Crea Size: 6
Aare Fished: Area 7 / SW Approaches
Fish Caught: Dover Sole, Plaice, Monkfish, Gurnard, Ray, Pout, Cuttlefish. other mixed fish
These days Jacoba is beam trawling year-round, working mostly seven-day trips on the traditional South-West fishing grounds to catch mainly sole, plaice, brill and turbot, and working lighter open trawl gear on clean grounds for part of the year. This is trawl gear more common in the North Sea, which uses tickler chains instead of the usual stone mats, but this calls for fishing grounds free of rocks and obstructions.
‘We worked the open gear last year and there’s enough clean ground to do this. It’s very clean fishing,’ Tony Watkins said. ‘The trawl gear we used has changed a lot, with PE instead of nylon and with bigger mesh, and selectivity is very good, nothing like what we used to see. We had a boarding recently when the Navy wanted to see the discards we had on board – and at first they couldn’t believe there weren’t any, until they checked the fishroom and the last haul, and saw that the fish weren’t just all over the legal size, they were well over the size. There’s no small fish at all, everything is top-grade, and this is definitely working out well for us,’ he said.
The mainstay of Jacoba’s catches are the conventional groundfish species, mainly flatfish, that are landed to Brixham auction, as well as cuttlefish that are the main target species from around mid-October to April or into May.
‘When we’re fishing for cuttlefish, it’s normally clean cuttlefish with not much other fish,’ Tony Watkins said adding that cuttlefish are voracious hunters, so other fish avoid them, hence this being mostly single-species fishing for much of the winter.