Zero Plastics
Fisheries Project

Plastic & Carbon Free Fishing

zero plastic logo white

Jof Hicks

Jof Hicks was born and grew up on the small island of St Agnes in the the isles of Scilly. He qualified as an industrial designer at the Glasgow school of art and worked in London and the USA before returning to the islands with his family around 2000.

Jof has always been a maker and had an interest in traditional design technology. He learnt how to make 'withy' willow and tamarisk inkwell lobster pots from an old fisherman on the island of St Marys 25 years ago and began to plant and pollard willow and tamarisk over the last decade. Building a 22' replica wooden dipping lugger gave him experience and insight into the original sail powered fishing boats of the south west of England. There are a handful of older fishermen who have retained the skills and tradition of making woven 'withy' willow lobster/crab pots and Jof believes this is a craft and tradition that is worth preserving and passing on in its own right. Jof is constantly amazed how sturdy fishing equipment can be fashioned from the local hedgerow plants and how the techniques needed to work and fish the pots, roots you to the local environment and its island traditions.

sun in a lobster pot

Jof has always had an interest in the ocean and how the Scillonian islanders live with and from it. With the increasing global awareness of plastic pollution and emissions, he started to build pots and trial how he could make a living through the use of fishing gear made without plastic and the use of a human-powered boat.

Over the last five years he has planted and restored thousands of willow and tamarisk trees in the islands to pollard/coppice for pots and fishes by sail and oar with fishing gear completely free from plastic. The ropes are made of manila and the buoys are a mix of Aluminium/timber and cork/bamboo. The material harvesting is done in the winter while the trees can be coppiced and the materials supple to work, it can take 4-5 hours to make a pot but often takes much longer and longer again to set up and rig with ropes and floats. These traditional pots will then only just last one season in the harsh sea conditions of the islands western Atlantic rocks and reefs until they break apart and naturally decompose on the sea bed or brought back to shore. Then the annual cycle of pot making and fishing starts again.

pots and withies on the beach

Jof’s lobster fishing is done in a converted sailing catamaran that is set up to scull with a sliding seat and modern carbon fibre hatchet oars. This enables him to cover up to 10km or more in a daily fishing trip, hauling the pots by hand. The fishing craft is an ongoing test bed of rowing, sailing equipment and technique. Fishing without an engine allows him to keep things simple and low cost. Future developments may expanded to technologies like automatic solid wing sails or electric propulsion.

big lobster in pot

This small scale artisan micro fishing has enabled Jof to commercially fish and sell live lobster to local customers for the last four years. These are people who may choose to support the approach and buy the product much like a consumer might choose organic soil association approved farmed food. To Jof and his customers these methods and materials have a value but the main drive and aim of the project is the design and development of new alternative equipment that can start to have a relevance in the wider commercial fleet. The existing inshore fishing fleet are skilled hardworking, multi generational fishers who naturally care for their local marine environment. The versatility and durability of plastic and steel pots, ropes and floats have been the obvious choice to do the hard work of fishing for a living. Safety, speed and commercial pressure means that fishing with an engine has always been a first choice to make a living for fishermen here.

people on boats on lake

For Jof, the hand fishing of withy pots using sail and oar is only a starting point and a test-bed for research and development of new equipment and materials. There are always lessons to be learnt from the past but there are no easy or obvious ways to change the materials and equipment of the mainstream. The ultimate goal is to develop low impact technologies that can utilise a high proportion of local materials and labour.

pots on windy day


© Copyright 2024 Zero Plastics Fisheries ProjectWeb Design by Toolkit Websites