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End of an era beckons for Lowestoft fish market

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 March 2011

Lowestoft Fish Market. Fish merchants (from left) Lionel Roberts, Richard Masterson  and Gary Roberts. Photo: Andy Darnell

Lowestoft Fish Market. Fish merchants (from left) Lionel Roberts, Richard Masterson and Gary Roberts. Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

It used to be a bustling hive of activity as hundreds of trawlers unloaded their catches to be scrutinised carefully by large gangs of fish merchants.

In the 19th century and even up until the 1980s, Lowestoft fish market was well known for its landings of herring and cod, caught in huge numbers.

Since, then dwindling numbers of trawlers have unloaded at the port as declining fishstocks and strict quotas on catches have forced fishermen to have up their nets and lines.

And now the death knell looks as though it has finally sounded for Lowestoft fish market and its remaining handful of fish merchants.

They say have been told that their tenancies may not be renewed in two year’s time by site owner Associated British Ports (ABP).

The move is forcing the remaining three merchants to consider moving to new premises away from the seafront.

It is a tough decision for the fish merchants, many of whom have been in family-run businesses since they were 14-year-olds in the 1960s.

Once they move, a significant aspect of the Lowestoft’s proud maritime heritage will end.

Fish merchants claim that ABP wants them out of the European-funded fish market building so they can be replaced by richer, renewable energy companies.

ABP has insisted that it has not talked to any renewable energy company about moving to the offices of the fish merchants – although it did admit that any new tenant could boost the town’s economy.

Richard Masterson, of William Masterson & Son, started working for his father in the 1960s.

Now 64, he employs four people and says he will be sad to his see business relocating several miles away from the dock.

Mr Masterson said: “Like the proverbial fish, I will be gutted when we move. This has been in the air for two or three years.

“There is nothing like being at the dock when the fish arrive and that feeling will be lost.”

Brothers Lionel, 58, and Gary Roberts, 56, have worked for their family-run business, L G Roberts, since they were both 14. The business employs a total of seven people who sort through, gut and pack cod, skate, whiting and herring.

The older brother said: “If you think about Lowestoft, you think about the fish dock and market. The two used to go hand in hand.

“At one point you used to see 100 trawlers and fishing boats here and the market would be packed. Now you just see two or three fishing boats. It is sad to see.

“We are looking at moving to another location - but it I have to say it is quite depressing to think of doing that.”

As the Roberts brothers discussed their situation, they were visited by Lowestoft-based fisherman Ian Lowe who operates the Western Lady and brings all of his catch to the market.

Mr Lowe said the end of the fish market mirrored what was happening in the region’s small fishing fleet which was struggling to make a living due to quotas.

He said: “This is another case of the industry being decimated. Soon there will nothing left to say this was part of the one of the most important fishing towns in the country.”

All of the merchants’ tenancy agreements include a six-month termination clause with ABP, which operates ports at King’s Lynn, Ipswich, Grimsby and Hull.

Roger Arundale, ABP deputy port manager for East Anglia, said other ports were seeing a move away from fish docks as the industry was declining and space was at a premium due to the emergence of new industries.

He said: “We have not spoken to any other party about moving into the fish market offices. But you have to take that in the context that the fishing industry is declining.

“Obviously it would be said to see the fish market go as the port of Lowestoft was built on the fishing industry.

“But the future for Lowestoft and its port is a very positive one.”

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

Visit www.edp24.co.uk to see a picture gallery of more images of the fish market past and present.

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