The Last Fisherman Standing project was brought to a close over the Bank Holiday weekend with an exhibition trail through the town, showing highlights of the project including a 25-metre mural at Splashpoint, in Brighton Road, and a wall documenting the history of fishing in Worthing at the Fish Factory restaurant.
Speaking at a celebratory event at the Brighton Road eatery on Thursday, project leader Anne Thwaites said: “It has gone much better than we expected. We didn’t expect the amount of involvement and engagement we got from so many different places: businesses, schools, local community groups and across the generations.”
For her, the highlight of the project was restoring an old fishing boat on Worthing Beach using original techniques. She said: “What I love about this is the tactile history. It isn’t writing a thesis which ends up in a library; I wanted to make history touchable, so people could feel it and feel connected to it.”
John Booker, one of Worthing’s last fishermen, who sells to customers straight from the beach, said: “It is very good that people are taking an interest. Quite a few people have mentioned it, and it is bringing us into the spotlight.”
Andy Sparsis, owner of The Fish Factory, has supported the lottery-funded project. In a speech at Thursday’s event, he underlined the importance of our heritage to local businesses. He said: “It is hard to get them to engage, but the past is our only real chance to build a new future.
“To build our fishing community and sustain our fishermen who are depleting, we must stand on the shoulders of the past.”
Research from the project revealed that the first trading fishermen were recorded in the 16th century. At the industry’s peak in the mid 19th century there was a fleet of 25 large fishing boats and numerous in-shore boats, with large quantities of mackerel and herring being sent to London for sale.
By 1903, only 22 tonnes of fish were landed in Worthing in a year – compared to 1,200 tonnes in Hastings. The last full-time fishermen left Worthing beach in 2015.
The project was run by Food Pioneers, a social enterprise also behind a community beehive scheme and seaweed cookery and identification classes.