There are records showing small-scale fishing by hand line and seine-net in Tor Bay since the Middle Ages. At the end of the eighteenth century the fishing industry in Brixham boomed when the method of catching fish by trawling along the sea-bed with a weighted net was successfully introduced and developed. It was deep-sea fishing that developed the Harbour area in the nineteenth century and mid way through the century the Brixham trawling fleet was the largest in England. Before the First World War nearly 300 sailing trawlers were based in Brixham.
Today Brixham is the most important fishing port in England and Wales measured by the value of catch landed. The Harbour provides areas for the safe and efficient conduct of the fishing industry. This includes the provision of fish landing facilities and a fish market, for the conduct of fish auctions, for which the Harbour Authority are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance.
The history of Brixham goes back over 1000 years and its role as a fishing port is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. By medieval times the port had strong trade in drying fish and curing pilchards, which has been recorded as taking place in 1500. By the middle of the 19th century, Brixham was said to have the biggest fleet in England. The arrival of the railway system to Brixham lead to Brixham having more than 200 registered fishing vessels just prior to the first World War. This later declined with competition from North sea ports, resulting in the fleet being reduced to as few as 7 by 1930.
The catch landed at Brixham includes fish landed by local boats, other vessels and fish transported overland from other ports in the hope of receiving a good price!
Despite considerable changes and pressure on the fishing industry, Brixham now ranks as the most significant in English and Wales, based on the value of the catch landed. This reflects the high quality of the deep sea fish caught in the Western Approaches, including, Lemon Sole, Turbot, and Plaice together with the valuable contribution now made by non quota species such as Cuttle Fish and Scallop.
To the northwest west of Brixham Harbour lies a series of Mussel beds. A program of ‘aquaculture’ such as this can be found in many of the sheltered bays and estuaries around the coastline, being suitable for the farming of a wide range of shellfish species. The early development and survival of the shellfish, are affected by a many physical and biological factors, including sea water temperature and salinity, exposure of the site, dissolved oxygen and pollutants.
The culture of Mussels in Tor Bay is an ongoing program and testament to the purity of our local waters.