It is one year on from our last Rye News report on the local fishing industry, and prospects are significantly brighter. I spoke again with Keith Chapman who is playing a major role in expanding the business based at Simmon’s Quay on Rock Channel.
A year ago he told me, the demand for fresh fish was suffering from the impact of the Covid pandemic and demand from the catering industry had fallen off badly. Not only that, but fishermen were facing increasingly complex regulations restricting the distribution of their catch, particularly for the export market. Post-Brexit red tape and new health and safety regulations meant that every consignment for market had to be accompanied by detailed certification before it could be moved. The export trade is vital for their survival, but the administration costs have risen substantially, making the whole business less economic.
This proved a golden opportunity for creating a new distribution system, and Chapman’s of Rye rose to the challenge. Five years ago the firm had taken on the former Duncan Grant fish processing plant at Rock Channel and invested heavily in modernising the equipment and facilities to handle the requirements of the Rye Bay fishing fleet. A local business launch was recorded in Rye News.
Now the business has grown significantly. In the last twelve months, the company has received official certification to enable it to take in the fish catch from fishing vessels right along the south east coast, ranging from Essex and north Kent ports round to Ramsgate. Folkestone, Dungeness and Rye, but the focus is on supporting the local Rye fishermen.
Rye has become an export hub with a bright future. Today, on the quayside were 250 bags of scallops, about six tonnes weight, destined for Boulogne, France. Zeebrugge in Belgium is another major destination for fish exports. The quota system is not proving too much an obstacle to growth.
Employment has risen too, from two to seven members of staff and more will soon be required. The company has recently taken on the business formerly run by Russell Drew at Market Fisheries and plans to re-open the retail fish shop in the spring, following substantial refurbishment and enlargement.
On a personal level, Keith Chapman tells his own story. “I retired four years ago to live in Spain and my partner and I were planning to travel the world, but Covid put a stop to that. Instead, I came back to the UK and took on managing the business here to keep me busy. We loved Rye with its sense of community so much that we bought a house in Rock Channel and settled here. We want to make buying fish a pleasurable experience, not just choosing fish on a counter.” His enthusiasm catches readily and his knowledge of the industry combines to make an ideal recipe for success.
Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .