Plymouth Seafood Festival

Plymouth Seafood Festival, phrased as ‘a celebration of our city by the sea’ is one of the largest events held in Plymouth and is jam-packed with activities for ages, young and old. With entertaining and enriching activities for young children, engrossing displays for teens and captivating shows for the adults, this festival is a day to bring the whole family with no room for a single ounce of boredom.

On the weekend of the 16th and 17th of September, every cobblestone and corner of Plymouth’s Barbican was taken over by the Seafood Festival. The Parade was dominated by various food and gift stalls. From authentic Thai food with delicious aromas that were smelt all the way from Quay square, to fresh paella that held long queues all day long, to organic farmers food and many, many more. It’s safe to say that if you attended the Plymouth Seafood Festival, you certainly didn’t leave with an empty stomach!

And if that wasn’t enough to make your tummy rumble, the Cookery Theatre program certainly would have succeeded! Throughout the day, a live cooking show was hosted on the West Pier, in which many talented local chefs made appearances and explained their fool-proof tips and tricks to approaching, prepping and cooking magnificent seafood dishes. Furthermore, all seafood ingredients used on the show were caught locally.

As for children’s entertainment, there was something around every corner! There was scallop shell painting, where they could let their creativity and imagination shine on the back of a shell. As well as the ‘Fish Finger’ workshop, where they could touch and explore the anatomies of fish and watch an up-close squid dissection. The feedback for this particular workshop was exceedingly satisfactory. It was great for children who learn through presentation and interaction rather than listening. This table was very popular and held crowds of children and parents throughout the whole weekend.

The festival was also a great hit with university students, particularly students who have recently moved to Plymouth and want to learn its story and traditions. Plymouth is a city in which many students from all over the UK travel to in order to study marine biology. Plymouth University is ranked in the top 15 universities in the whole of the UK for this course. It is safe to say that this festival attracted quite a few marine-biologists-in-training! 

At Quay square, the public got a first-hand glimpse of how a willow crab pot is crafted by hand. Willow crab pots are a fishing technique of the past; usage of these pots can be traced back at least 400 years. They are an eco-friendly way to fish as they are made up of one-hundred percent natural materials and are almost completely carbon-neutral. (This means if they get lost at sea they will break down naturally without causing harm to the environment or any animals caught inside!) Unfortunately, the craftsmanship behind these pots is dying out and as a result, plastic alternatives have replaced them. As of 2019, the craft was declared critically endangered by the Heritage Crafts Foundation.

Dave French, a fifth generation willow crab pot maker, made two pots throughout the weekend, displaying the craft he has devoted over forty years of his life to. However, this craft is rooted further than just the forty years that Dave has spent practising the craft. His earliest recollection of the craft was as a young boy at the age of four, when he’d watch his grandfather make and mend the pots in his back garden. Dave was born and raised in Budleigh, which is what influenced his style of pot- something the untrained eye can’t easily notice! He moved from Budleigh at the age of ten and has called Plymouth home for nearly fifty-five years and has worked alongside the seafood festival for the last five years and is booked to attend again in 2024.

Inside the tent near where Dave worked were various other activities- scallop shell painting, The Rock Pool Project as well as The Fishermen’s Mission Charity. Crafting lobster pots and working with such grand lengths of willow, Dave couldn’t work alongside the other stalls inside the tent - instead, he had to work outside! As for Plymouth’s notoriously grey weather and the intermittent showers throughout the weekend, it’s safe to say that Dave and his crab pots got quite wet.

However, this damp weather didn’t deter the public from their annual seafood festival and spirits were kept as high as the grey clouds above. As for Dave French, who relentlessly worked on his pots through the weekend of pouring rain; this miserable weather wasn’t such a miserable thing. In fact, it worked in his favour. In order for the willow to be bent and manipulated easily without snapping, it needs to be kept moist. Dave has displayed his craftsmanship at many shows over the years throughout the South West. Before each show, Dave follows a procedure that can take up to two weeks in order to soak the willow and keep it moist and fresh and ready for his shows. He also does this during the shows by bringing plenty of water in order to water the willow. The sun can be a major issue for drying up willow, even on a cold winter's day. The rain, though cold and uncomfortable, saved Dave the task of soaking his willow!

Displaying the craft that he has devoted his life to wasn’t the only thing that Dave brought to the show. This weekend, he also brought over 300 willow fish. These are always a huge hit with the public, they’re great for home or garden decor, or even treats for your furry friends to gnaw on! Dave makes these from the excess willow he has from making pots. As a result of their popularity, Dave donated a collection of these fish to be auctioned for the Fishermen’s Mission Charity. 

The Fishermen’s Mission charity was at the heart of the festival this weekend, like it has been for many years now. They are a Christian charity which offers financial, practical and pastoral support. They aid active and retired fishermen as well as affected families. Something not widely known by the public is that fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the UK. Research shows that British fishermen have a 1 in 20 chance of being killed on the job during the course of their working lives. For most fishermen and their families, fishing isn’t just a career, it’s a lifestyle. The Fishermen’s Mission acknowledges this and offers support to those in need, whether that be the fishermen themselves, widows, parents and/or children. They offer emergency assistance, compassionate welfare, practical support and are open to volunteers.

Everything that the festival made as a collective this weekend was donated to the cause. On Sunday afternoon, when the event was nearing its end for 2023, there was a huge auction that took place at the Cookery Theatre. In which people bidded for different fish and crab and lobster, all of which were landed in Plymouth. Every penny that went into that auction was happily donated to the Fishermen’s Mission Charity.

Plymouth Fishing and Seafood Association is also linked to SeaFest. Their aim is to help Plymouth and other local fishing communities served by Plymouth, to thrive whilst protecting the marine environment for all. Integral to their mission is recognising and understanding the complexity of fisheries management and the supplies chain. They are non-profit with all monies received and all resources are invested in helping local fishing communities to secure a sustainable future.

There were many other attractions and entertainment pieces that happened all across Plymouth’s Hoe and Barbican that I would like to use this article to acknowledge and appreciate. Such as the El Galeόn that was docked in the Barbican Landing stage, street performers, live music from local bands and traditional shanty singers, the IMechE cardboard Boat Race, the beautiful illustrations displayed by the very talented Debby Mason and many more.

This year, Plymouth Seafood festival was expected to attract over 25,000 people. And, despite the September rain, it seemed to do just that. The Barbican streets and cobblestone alleyways were crowded with people cutting through from one attraction to the next. This event has been running for over a decade, and has proven itself to still be standing on very strong legs, and they seem to be getting stronger and stronger the more it goes on. In fact, it is widely agreed amongst the public that this is what Plymouth needs. Plymouth, like many seaside towns, is a tourist attraction. Events like this are what keeps the small shops and cosy bars along the harbour alive. These events continue to bring the people of Plymouth closer together and remind us of what it means to be a community. In addition to this, it educates the young and reminds us of our roots as The City By The Sea.

If you seek help or support from the charities mentioned in this article, or would like to contribute or volunteer, you can find out more by going to:

Or freephone: 0800 634 1020

Written by: Milla James