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Shortage of crab fishermen in Cromer ‘a real concern’

John Lee said there were almost 50 Cromer crab fishermen when he began and now there are no more than 10 of them working regularly.

A seaside town famed for its crabs is facing a future shortage of fishermen to catch the shellfish as young people are not sticking at the job, a crab fisherman has claimed.

John Lee, 55, of Cromer, Norfolk, said it could be because crab fishing is seen as hard work.

He said experience is not being passed down to the next generation and it is a “real concern”.

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Crab fisherman John Lee hauls pots from his boat off the coast of Cromer in Norfolk (Joe Giddens/ PA)

An apprenticeship scheme was attempted in the past, he said, and “none of them stuck at it”.

There’s a good living to be had, the demand is there and the demand is always going to be there John Lee

“Yes, it’s hard work, but I look at it as a challenge, especially on the rough days,” he said.

“You just get in the mindset ‘You’re not going to beat me, I am going to keep hauling these pots, I am going to land these crabs’.

“At the end of the day that’s what’s paid my mortgage and paid for my kids to have an upbringing and that type of thing.

“There’s a good living to be had, the demand is there and the demand is always going to be there.

“They need to get off their arse and do a bit of work.”

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Crab fisherman John Lee said it is hard work but there is a good living to be had (Joe Giddens/ PA)

The father-of-four, who works 90 to 100 hours per week during the crab season, said this year had been a struggle due to the long winter shortening the crab fishing season by more than a month.

He said in a good year he would catch 500 crabs per day early in the season, but this year it was more like 200.

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John Lee brings his haul of crabs ashore at Cromer in Norfolk (Joe Giddens/ PA)

“You have highs and lows, we always have, that’s just part and parcel of the job,” he said.

“That’s probably why there’s only a few of us left as you get years like this where you struggle to make a living.”

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Fisherman John Lee inspects a large crab (Joe Giddens/ PA)

Mr Lee, who left school at 15 to work with his father as an eighth-generation crab fisherman, said there were almost 50 Cromer crab fishermen when he began and now there are no more than 10 of them fishing regularly.

Among them is Matt Bywater, who at 36 is one of Cromer’s youngest crab fishermen.

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Seagulls look for scraps as John Lee hauls crab pots from his boat off the Norfolk coast (Joe Giddens/ PA)

He worked in a series of different jobs, including as a health and safety manager in an office, before deciding at the age of 30 to follow in his father’s footsteps as a fisherman.

He said he was “quite money-orientated”, adding: “The fishing industry, yes, it’s hard work, but if you’re willing to work you can do as much as you like as such and earn as much as you like.”

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John Lee returns to his shop with his haul of crabs (Joe Giddens/ PA)

Asked why so few young people are entering the industry, Mr Bywater said: “There’s a bit of a stigma with the fishing industry, just the nature of the job really, and also the set-up costs.

“We’ve had youngsters, school leavers, try and do a bit, but if you want a lifestyle of going out with your mates and what not you’re probably coming in at half three in the morning rather than getting up at half three in the morning (to work) so it doesn’t really fit and bode well.”

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John Lee removes a freshly cooked bag of crabs from hot water at his shop in Cromer (Joe Giddens/ PA)

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