From pot to plate: Part 1

The Bridlington Bay lobster fleet

Tradition, Bridlington fleet
Rich Stephenson’s lobster boat, Tradition, coming into Bridlington harbour Photo courtesy of Janet Cartwright

Think about the last thing you ate. Do you know where it came from? Do you know the people involved in getting it to you? Do you know what skills were needed to bring you the food?

Faced by the vast choice of food on shop shelves, available throughout the year and from all over the world, we often don’t give it another thought – the food is just there. In many instances, it’s available to you due to processing techniques and production lines and there isn’t much of a story to tell.

But getting a native Bridlington Bay lobster from pot to plate relies on a number of people, each bringing very particular skills, expertise and knowledge to their stage of the lobster’s journey.

And that journey starts with the people with the pots.

Meet the Stephensons

Rich Stephenson
Rich Stephenson, skipper of Tradition. Photo courtesy of The Yorkshire Dalesman magazine

Bridlington has been home to fishing families for centuries and the skills and local knowledge has accumulated, passed down through the generations. Parent taught child teaches child – and so it continues. Today, many of the boats in the fleet are crewed by family teams, including Tradition which belongs to the Stephenson family.

John Stephenson is now aged 76 and retired, but he first went to sea aged 15 and spent 56 years fishing in Bridlington Bay. Fishing was so much part of his family heritage that he never considered doing anything else. And judging by his stories of school teachers letting him miss school in order to go to sea (in exchange for a few crabs), everyone else expected him to follow that path too.

Today, it is John’s son Rich who skippers Tradition. GPS and an onboard computer make it easier to track the pots and mobile phones make communication quicker, but a day in the life of the Tradition crew is as long, strenuous and unpredictable as it was when John first when out. 

The morning we spoke to John, Tradition had left harbour at 3am with Rich at the helm plus grandson Jake and apprentice Oli as crew. After three hours they would arrive 25 nautical miles offshore, where they would begin the work of pulling up, inspecting, emptying (hopefully), rebaiting and returning around 400 pots. They were expected back in Bridlington Harbour at around 5pm when they’d unload, before preparing Tradition for the next day when they’d repeat the process. With about 2,500 pots in total, the cycle is continuous and the role is not for the faint-hearted or fair-weathered.

The risk and reward

What is it that keeps the Stephensons going out to sea, day in day out, in all weathers, at the most unsociable times and with the knowledge that risk is part and parcel of the job?

lobster catch
Bridlington Bay Lobster Photo courtesy of Northern Shores Marine Consultancy Ltd

For John, the satisfaction of achieving was a big attraction. “Fishing requires an inventive mind – if something’s not working you have to find an alternative, because without a catch there’s no income.” He talks about the beauty of lobster fishing being that it is on the lobsters’ terms – if they  don’t want to go in the pot, they won’t. So it’s up to the boat crew to make sure that everything is as favourable for a catch as it can be.

With a job that is so influenced by variables – the weather, seasons and tides are not in anyone’s control – it requires a real commitment to keep going to sea. Thank goodness that the crew of Tradition – and the rest of the Bridlington fleet – have that commitment. Not only do they make native Bridlington Bay lobster available, they are continuing a longstanding tradition and passing on their knowledge to the next generation.

So when you next tuck into Bridlington Bay lobster, eaten with fresh bread and butter or in a bowl of bisque, spare a thought for those people who took the lobster on the first stage of its journey from pot to plate – because you wouldn’t be eating it without them.

Similar Posts