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Small-Scale Fisheries, Local Seafood and the Future of Fishing Heritage in South Wales

The fishing heritage of South Wales will serve as the focal point for a project that integrates critical heritage research with a politically and ecologically conscious agenda for small-scale production and localised consumption.
A fish stall in an indoor market

Generously funded by CHART and DePOT (Deindustrialization and the Politics of Time), this project will provide an innovative and timely analysis on fishing heritage and food culture in South Wales.

The future of the Welsh fishing industry is increasingly precarious. Despites its rich history and the unique attributes of the fleet, heritage is seldom discussed in relation to Wales’s inshore fishery. With the greatest proportion of small-scale fishing vessels in the UK, the industry is more artisanal than its neighbours and sustainable techniques have been transmitted down generations.

These values are underappreciated by central and local government, academics, and the public. Over 80% of the catch is exported to the continent and seafood consumed locally is supplied by foreign markets. At the same time, heritage, enacted in the tourism and leisure sectors, often works against the fishing sector, prompting gentrification, the proliferation of second homes, and the outmigration and alienation of descendant communities.

Fishing boats in Swansea Marina
Fishing boats in Swansea Marina

Responding to these tensions, this doctoral project examines the reconfiguration of fishing communities in South Wales, questions the great divide between the consumption and supply of seafood, and investigates the destructive value systems that engender these contradictions in the uses of fishing heritage.

Alongside archival research, focusing on 1850 to the present, this project prioritises engagement with the contemporary material landscape and continuous communication with members of the fishing community in South Wales. Archaeological ethnography constitutes an integral mode of research involving an embodied approach to the landscape, interviews, photography, and film.

This fieldwork will be conducted across four locations in South Wales: Swansea, Milford Haven, Saundersfoot and Burry Port. Each retains links with the fishing industry whether that be in the sense of the landing of fish, or processing, sale, and consumption. Key stakeholders include, but are not limited to, fishermen, fishmongers and fish wholesalers, and representative bodies for the Welsh fishing industry.

With ecological collapse approaching, the need to reconsider our habits of extraction and consumption is imminent. Heritage will be considered in alternative, ecologically oriented and less anthropocentric terms and used to address barriers to, and strategies for, small-scale production and localised consumption. Whether heritage can be extricated from capitalism is inconclusive, but it can serve as a catalyst to break capitalist cycles.

The exterior of the Welsh Lobster Company with signs in a window that read Lobster, Cockles, Brown Crab, Spider Crab and Mussels.
Welsh Lobster Co. in Milford Haven

Project duration: 2022 – 2025

Contact: Katherine

Follow Katherine on Twitter @KatherineWats0n