Five minutes with… Mike Warner

I’ve been involved in food and its production all my life, but have only been writing about it since relatively recently. 

My passion is obviously native seasonal fish and shellfish, caught and landed into our ports, harbours and coves around our diverse coastline. I despair that so much has been exported, whilst we consume so many imported ‘commodities’. Growing up in a Suffolk fishing community, a lot of my time was spent at sea and crewing for a local fisherman. Catching my own lobsters, crabs and long lining for cod and skate was a boyhood dream.

We ate fish so regularly, I developed a deep affinity for everything that swam in our shallow seas and I have pursued that passion intently; catching, cooking, eating, writing, storytelling and now actually buying and selling these wonderful products direct from fishing boats to fishmongers, chefs and private customers. 

The ‘net to plate’ ethos, is something I always strive to represent in my writing. That connection to our food and the steps taken to preserve the quality and integrity of the freshest of ingredients, whilst educating, enthusing and informing along the way is paramount. 

Being shortlisted twice for my online writing at the Awards, meant so much to me and really gave me the confidence to broaden my remit and tackle new ways of getting my message across. I’ve had so much fantastic support from many Guild members and the engagement at Food Festivals and events is always exciting and a lot of fun. Such a great community. 

After Kristen had spoken to Mike we heard the news of the sinking of the Joanna C, a fishing boat registered in Brixham, Devon, which went down in the sea near Newhaven, East Sussex. The body of 26-year-old fisherman Adam Harper, from Brixham, was recovered from the wreck on Monday night and another fisherman, Robert Morley, 38, from Pembrokeshire, is still missing. Kristen asked Mike for his thoughts on this tragic news.

Sadly this is not an isolated incident. I have interviewed and chatted to fishermen, often in the quiet of a wheelhouse in the early hours or in a quayside pub, where shocking and heartbreaking stories have risen to the surface.

I have worked with guys who have had such incredibly near-misses it makes your hair stand on end and have watched tears roll down the cheeks of the hardest and most grizzled characters, when they recall the tragic circumstances surrounding crew or family members who were unable to be saved.

Tragically, the loss of the Joanna C is not and never will be an isolated incident, due to the nature and unpredictability of the environment in which they work and the inherent danger in using the gear they work with.

In January 2018, a trawler called the ‘Nancy Glen’, working the prawn (langoustine) grounds in the calm waters of Loch Fyne got her gear fast (stuck) on the seabed whilst making a turn and within seconds had capsized and gone under, with the loss of another two souls.

The accident happened within sight of Tarbert Harbour, where she was based, on a benign day and the subsequent wave of grief and outpouring of despair that enveloped the tiny fishing community was palpable.

In the last two years, another boat I sailed with, the ‘Ajax’, a Cornish hake netter, lost two of her crew to horrific, life-changing injuries at sea, in separate incidents, involving split second moments of misjudgement and both requiring medevac operations by HM Coastguard, 50 miles from land. Neither crew has worked since.

The Fishermen’s Mission supports the families and friends of those bereaved or disadvantaged both emotionally and financially.

Often a body will never be recovered and the processes of death certification, finances, insurance and the ultimately the laying to rest of the soul can be a tortuous and grief-stricken process. The ‘Fish Mish’ officers are always there to guide, support, counsel and confide where needed.

I am regularly in contact with the Mission and their latest campaign is to help fishing families through a potentially unsurvivable winter following the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the fisheries sectors and supply chain.