The Last Fishmongers

A Dying Trade

By Eleanor Knight

“People don’t understand it’s a way of life. But it’s a much more enjoyable way of life to some, than sitting in a call centre or sitting in a office.” These are the words of Phil Crowle, co-owner of one of the last fishmongers standing in Falmouth.

Two smiling faces, dressed in navy clothing and blue aprons greet me from the back room as I walk into the shop. The smell of fresh fish is overwhelming. I am led into the back room, where there are three red crabs boiling away in a large silver pan. It’s lunchtime on a quiet overcast Wednesday.

Awrenack Fisheries has been trading for more than 109 years as a fishmonger. It was 27 years ago, when the Crowle brothers decided to enter the trade. With no skilled backgrounds in fishing, the brothers took it upon themselves to learn the trade back to front. Nearly three decades on, they still work together every day.

However, it’s not all joy—last 27 years has brought vast changes to this small, independent business. The steep increase in big supermarket chains taking over small towns and villages across the country has resulted in many local shops falling to their knees. This is no exception in Falmouth.

“27 years ago the mothers of the household used to come down with a head scarf on and a couple of shopping bags to do the shopping. Those days have gone,” said Phil. Regular customers have now become elderly or passed away, leaving the brothers with no steady base of clients. Phil and Dave now depend on holidaymakers in the summer months as a strong source of income. “Summer time here, it’s a little gold mine.”

But it’s not just the brothers who are experiencing the decline of customers. With two leading supermarkets in the town centre of Falmouth, local businesses are becoming more and more threatened, finding it harder to compete with prices and stock. “It just shows that smaller places now are being swallowed up by the big companies.”

But is this what we want? Do we no longer feel that we want local, fresh produce? We constantly hear about fair trade and how important it is to get behind your local butcher, fishmonger and vegetable shop, but are we actually doing it?

“Everyone says, oh isn’t it a shame, but no one supports us”.

Large deep-sea trawlers are also threatening Cornwall’s small, local fishing community. These newly built vessels go out for weeks, if not months at a time, carrying and catching far more than the smaller boats can pull in.

For Awernack Fisheries, these problems have not gone unnoticed.  Phil and his brother feel they have to compete with the big businesses that are overtaking the fishing industry by lowering their profits. “I should be charging a lot more for the fish.”

However, despite the negatives “I enjoy it,” said Phil.  

“Despite the negatives, Its like these fishermen, they’ve got contentment. They go out and see the sun rise in the morning and they see it set in the evening.”

From boys, the brothers have loved the sea. Phil believes that he should “count his blessings” as he is still happy in what he is doing 27 years on.  “I go out in the evenings and pick a bit of fish up, I know I’m not getting paid for it, but I have a chat on the quay with the fishermen and that, pass the time away. It may be a lovely summers evening and while I’m out there I might have a sit down for half an hour.”