Fishing the Purbeck waters is an ancient occupation. Here, we talk to Nick Ford of Kimmeridge about what it takes to bring in the catch. Full Article from edition 4, 2012, photography by Graham Horne, words by Geoff Stubbs.

Nick is at the hoist where he must open the pot, extract the crabs, sort them, check for size, re-bait the pot and stack it ready for casting all within just a few minutes. It takes half an hour to process one string of fifteen pots.

Back in the heydays of 1801, there were 115 souls living in the vales of Kimmeridge. Today, that number has dwindled to 110. Among them is Nick Ford, lobster-potter and fisherman, earning his crust here for twenty-seven years.

Thirty-odd years ago he was learning his trade in Swanage, under the auspices of Freddy Snael for one year and for a further two with Peter Barrett. Pickings can’t have been too bad because Nick purchased the Tudorial-sounding Elizabeth Anne soon after, a Westral Chief out of Falmouth on whose decks he endured all weathers for the following seventeen years. Then came his current Obsession, a 26ft (7.9m) catamaran; just the job for choppy inshore waters. They’ve been very happy together, come-rain, come-shine, for the last ten years.

An inclement spell is due the day after our photo shoot, so Nick is a busy man. Twenty- two lines strung with fifteen pots each amounts to a decent day’s work and it’s a good thing our photographer knows how to stay out of the way: the pots shoot out of the stern at a leg-breaking pace. Does he catch fish too? “It’s mainly shellfish,” Nick tells him, “if the weather is settled enough in winter. But if they’re weaker, I’ll subsidise by fishing other species; have a go at (static) netting”. His net catch varies but he reckons it’s mostly bass, sole and grey mullet; we suspect there’s also mackerel in there somewhere. Nick is also a gamekeeper on the estate, so it’s a surf-and-turf diet of lobster, fish and pheasant on the table. Lead pellets aside, that’s a healthy way to live.

On the day PURBECK! came on board, Nick was throwing back a lot of small velvet crab. “They are harvestable, but more for the Spanish market”. Nick waits ‘til the weather is cooler before troubling with them because they’re not as robust as other species and expire all too easily when hot. Lobster and crab are the main catch and he pots for them all year round, shuttling them up the winding road out of rustic Kimmeridge to the high tables of the Manor House Hotel in Studland, Wareham’s prestigious The Priory and also onto the plate or to be put on ice at the Salt Pig in Wareham’s High Street.

Female lobster ‘in berry’

This female lobster is returned because she is ‘in berry’, a reference to the appearance of the eggs which are gathered around her pleopods (swimmerets) under the abdomen. She keeps them oxygenated by fanning them and is fastidious about cleanliness. It takes ten to eleven months while the embryos molt several times within their eggs before she is able to fan them into the world as metanauplius larvae, krill-like and vulnerable.

Two types of pot: ‘parlours’, which have their trap opening at the top, and ‘creels’, with openings on the side.

Criels – entrance at the top
Parlours – entrance by the side

 

Over the limit
Minimum Size Chart
Measuring Lobster (carapace)

Nick uses a gauge to measure for minimum size, 140mm across the carapace for crabs. Crab claws are nicked with a knife to prevent them using them. “The ripper claw is like a serrated knife and if they get you with the crusher claw – it hurts. A lot. You could lose a finger if they get it right.” Clearly over the limit, this one is arrested and will appear on a table somewhere in Purbeck later that day. The minimum-size measurement for lobster is 87mm from the eye socket to the back of the carapace.

For bait, Nick uses red gurnard or mackerel from Plymouth, Devon