These Fishermen Are Using Twitter to Sell Haddock
All photos by the author.
fisherman

These Fishermen Are Using Twitter to Sell Haddock

After a day at sea, fishing cooperative Dreckly Fish tweets photos of its catch to over 2,000 Twitter followers. Customers tweet to request the shellfish, haddock, cod, or sole they require and have it delivered in less than 24 hours.
15 July 2015, 10:00amUpdated on 05 May 2016, 5:34pm

"Everyday we go out—weather permitting—and come back in with our catch," fisherman Kevin Penney tells me as we meet near Newlyn Harbour, a Cornish fishing port dating back to the early 1400s. "But aside from that, we're pretty different to the other fishermen working here and across the United Kingdom."

The small Cornwall town on the southernmost tip of the British mainland has a long history of fishing, but Penney and a small group of fellow fishermen are dragging the industry into the 21st century.

READ MORE: The UK's Small-Scale Fishermen Are Struggling to Make a Living

In 2013, after years getting to know the local trade, Penney and three others founded Dreckly Fish, a fishing cooperative that he sees as the only real future for small-scale fishermen.

"Everyone was of the same opinion—selling to a middleman meant we just weren't getting a fair price for the catch," Penney explains as we walk to his boat on the deserted Cornish harbour. "We did all that we could to improve the quality of our catch but still our prices were dictated by the market. Frankly, we just couldn't afford that."

Newlyn Harbour fishing port in Cornwall. All photos by the author.

Fed up, the Dreckly team yearned for a way to escape this cycle of unstable income.

They decided they needed to get their product directly to the customer. They decided to get on Twitter.

Dreckly's sales model is simple. As their boats head into Newlyn Harbour after a long morning at sea, the catch is sorted before being rushed into the harbour-side unit.

"As soon as it's weighed up and in the door, we get the pictures taken on our phones, and get them up on Twitter in no time," Penney explains.

When the snaps have been uploaded online, Dreckly Fish's 2,000-strong Twitter followers pick from the variety of shellfish or sustainably caught cod, sole, and haddock by tweeting back or sending a direct message. The fish are usually snapped up by wholesalers or chefs, many of whom tweet photos of the dishes they create to Dreckly's account.

Kevin Penney of Cornwall fishing cooperative, Dreckly Fish. All photos by the author.

As Penney walks me around his boat, I ask whether he ever had doubts about the unusual scheme.

"When I started this, we were stepping into the unknown. I was pretty confident, I could see the potential of Twitter for what I wanted to do," he says. "Chefs want shots of what they're doing online, fishmongers are posting pictures on social media of their counter every morning. For me, there was a clear space for us."

Now in its third year, the costs of the cooperative are shared between the four members and Penney says that cutting out the middleman allows him to make far more than many in the fishing industry.

"Year one was rocky, people had to learn about us. By this year, year three, we are well into the black," he explains. "We keep a close eye on market prices, and we hear from all the other fishermen how they're doing."

Some of the shellfish caught by Dreckley Fish during the summer months.

Penney wants to see Dreckly's model catch on and many European fishermen have already visited in the hope of starting their own cooperatives. It's not just the fishermen who benefit from this style of selling, either.

"People love it!" Penney says as we head in to the Dreckly packing shed. "There's real traceability. It's one thing knowing what country your fish comes from, it's another to know the fisherman himself."

The Dreckley team also prides itself on the speed in which it delivers the catch to customers. From catching to customer, the cooperative aims to take 24 hours maximum, even delivering as far as Scotland.

"We've had people in Bath get Dover sole whilst it's still alive," says Penney.

Not bad, for a 180-mile trip. The novelty of a live fish delivery aside, this speedy turnaround keeps food wastage down.

"The normal process, for fishermen going out at sea in bigger boats, can take five days, easily," explains Penney. "They'll be out at sea for three days, landing on the market and getting in for sale will take a day, and for a buyer to get it and send it to you takes you to five."

For wholesalers, buying from the cooperative directly means a fresher product, usually at a lower price than that charged by the buyer.

The Dreckly fishermen aren't just taking fish out of the sea, either—they're putting them back in too.

"When we catch lobsters that are buried, which means it's carrying eggs, the National Lobster Hatchery needs them, so they can hatch the baby lobsters and release them out at sea," explains Penney.

Based in down the coast from the Dreckly fishermen in Padstow, the National Lobster Hatchery is a charity that works to preserve UK lobster stocks.

"Lobster aren't endangered here yet but we have to act now," explains Oli, a technician at the Hatchery. "Otherwise, like in Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, the whole stock could vanish. Last year, they released 54,000 lobsters, which have a much higher chance of making it to adulthood when hatched at the waterside centre."

The Dreckly team take their lobsters to the Hatchery. In return, up to 7,000 lobsters are released on their patch.

The view from Dreckly Fish's harbour-side unit.

"We put more lobsters back into the sea than what we take out," says Penney. "I don't know any other fishing industry in the world that can claim that!"

With lobsters taking at least seven years to reach a size at which they can be caught, it's certainly not a quick return.

"Nothing is a quick return in fishing," Penney jokes.

The returns from Dreckly's Twitter model, however, are promising. The team is now able to make a reliable living from fishing, and in a sustainable way.

"I think this is the future of fishing," Penney states, as we say our goodbyes in the drizzle. "I don't believe that the current situation can continue. Fuel prices, quota, and market prices—it just can't carry on. We have to do something, and I think this is the future."

It's about time something went right for fishermen in the UK.