Brixham Beam Trawl Fishery

By Alex Philips, Vessel Owner and Shaun Gibbs, Skipper of Barentszee trawler

 “We fish for 31 different species, targeting at different times of the year: Doversole, plaice, lemon sole, monk fish, whiting, cod and haddock. There used to be 45 beam trawlers 15 years ago but the after decommissioning this has been reduced to 20. It has been a good thing; the boats that are left are good at what they do with a mind to the future.

Over the past five years, we have seen the need for change. You look at fishing ports around the country, the likes of Lowerstoft, Grimsby and Hull. They were once huge and now they are gone.  We want Brixham to continue in the future.

One of the most significant changes we’ve made is improving the selectivity of our gear. We started working on different net designs, but the 50% CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) project helped to get other fishermen on board and give us recognition. The project allowed fishermen to design their own nets, share ideas with scientists and move it forward. Now 90% of the fleet are using modified nets, and as the name suggests we’ve reduced our discards by over 50% across the fleet.

The new nets create less drag in the water, save us 20% on fuel and reduce contact with the sea bottom. We only catch fish of marketable size and let the smaller fish escape allowing them to grow and breed again. We used to get 8-10 months out of a normal trawl and are now seeing them last up to 14-16 months. So, for a relatively small cost changing gear technology and a bit of thinking; you catch less, make a bit more and save on fuel.

Normally, the crew would be on deck for over an hour per trawl but that is down to ½ hr now as they don’t have to sort through heaps of small fish. Their wages have improved as well. Just taking the fuel savings alone, the crew are probably taking home an extra £200 per week.

We are getting more saleable sizes out of the nets and therefore maximising the value of the catch.  Sole prices have increased from £6/kg to £18/kg and Dover Sole from £13 to £25/kilo over the past two years. Some of the other less marketable fish, such as Gurnards, have gone up 300% from 20-30p/kg to 60-80p/kg. 

A proportion of these price increases is due to improved selectivity (around 5%), for instance the new trawls allow unwanted benthic species and rocks to pass through the larger mesh size nets, which in turn creates less abrasion in the trawl and improves the quality and hence value of the fish. However, there have also been other factors, for instance, smaller catches focusing on higher quality, a weaker pound helping exports, and the regenerated market at Brixham have all helped. We have also been working with the supermarkets to improve marketing of under-utilised species.

We’re still working to further reduce drag and impact on the sea bed. We’re also participating in a camera catch share scheme. The reports they are getting back are really good. Out of 100 hauls in 7 days, some of the traditional trawlers are landing 40-80kg of smaller fish. Our unmarketable catch is literally measured in numbers of fish.”

Vital Statistics 

Species: Mixed species (31 species, for example: Dover sole, plaice, lemon sole, monk fish, whiting, cod and haddock)

Fishing gear: Beam trawls

Country: UK

Ocean: Channel, North Sea, Atlantic

Fishery tonnage: The port of Brixham lands around 12,800t of fish, with 80% of this being exported  

Markets: France, Spain, Italy (increasing markets in Asia & China)

Before intervention/s – 15 years ago


After intervention/s – Current

Economic indicator/s   (e.g. Total value of catch, or fish prices/kg)

Social indicators   (e.g. Average wage – of crew; no. of vessels)

Environmental indicators   (e.g. Status of stock)

Fleet indicator (number of vessels or licenses)

Cost of interventions  (Estimate of the financial costs)

Economic indicator/s   (e.g. Total value of catch, or fish prices/kg)

Social indicators  (e.g. Average wage – of crew; no. of vessels)

Environmental indicators  (e.g. Status of stock)

Fleet indicator  (number of vessels or licenses)

45 trawlers (15 years ago) £2000-3000 for new nets

Increased value of catch: 5% due to quality improvements


20% saving on fuel

Increased wages by up to £200/week Reduced discards by over 50% 20 trawlers