An Interview with Phillip Higgins - Charter Fishing Boat Owner
Philip Higgins - Charter fishing boat owner
Philip Higgins is Chairman of the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA), and owner of the charter fishing boat Mistress Linda which he describes as “38-foot-long oceanic splendour”, which operates out of Poole Harbour.
Q. When did you start working in your industry?
I left school at just 16 years old in 1974 and started as a weekend crew member for Pat Manley, a legendary Poole Skipper, whilst engaged full time in a motor engineering apprenticeship. I’ve been chartering boats since 1984. I’ve also worked at luxury yacht brand Sunseeker for 20 years, as well as building boats myself.
Q. When did you launch Mistress Linda and how was she named?
I set up Mistress Linda in 1998. I love fishing and this was the perfect excuse to follow my passion and earn money at the same time. The boat is my mistress and Linda is my wife!!
Q. Tell us a little bit about the Professional Boatman’s Association, of which you’re Chairman?
The PBA was established in 1991 and set up to act as a voice representing small commercial vessels across the UK. Its aims are to promote professionalism at sea and to monitor new legislation that is regularly introduced to the industry. We can learn issues and opportunities that affect our industry and we are able to meet Government and non-Governmental associates that have a direct impact on our businesses.
We also share a vast amount of marine knowledge and experience from ports across the UK.
I became PBA Chairman in 2019. My purpose for getting involved was very much driven by my desire to get the industry recognised and to forge successful relationships with our partner businesses, such as Coleman Marine Insurance, A Gallagher Company.
PBA members are mainly angling and diving charters skippers but we would welcome any yacht charters to join. Please visit our website www.pba.org.uk to learn more about us and apply for membership.”
Q. How has lockdown been for you and the business?
The business has been hit really hard by lockdown and its restrictions. All summer, instead of being able to take out our usual 12 passengers, we’ve been restricted to 5. Overheads have obviously not gone down but income has frustratingly dipped by more than 55%. During lockdown 2 we’ve been able to operate but with just 1 person on board. As from December 2nd we’ve been able to revert back to 5 guests on board. Thankfully, enquiries are coming in thick and fast now that restrictions have lifted somewhat.
Lockdown has been positive in other aspects for the PBA and charter boat industry, in that it has meant that we have achieved more recognition - previously, some bodies would have incorrectly identified us as anglers when in fact we are actually commercial charter boat operators. This has been a really positive aspect and step forward.
We’ve had very little Government support, other than self- employed support grants. In some areas businesses have received local council grants, but this has not been the case in all councils. My local council, BCP has been supportive. During Lockdown I have been successfully lobbying for the sector and had many meaningful conversations with the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, The Angling Trust, the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport and local councillors, as well as keeping our PBA members up to date. The PBA are now being invited to be part of forums and feel we finally have a voice. It’s very satisfying.
Q. What type of bookings have you been getting recently?
We’ve been getting a real mix of individual and group bookings. We’ve had quite a number of businesses booking fishing trips as part of their work parties – they’re looking for Christmas staff events with a difference this year. People can have a few drinks relax and fish.
Q. Has lockdown changed how you view your business?
I’ve found that lockdown has made lots of people in the industry revaluate their business models, what they’re achieving and what you actually need to earn in order to get a decent work life balance. Previously I would take every phone booking and do every trip possible. During Covid19 I’ve reconsidered my situation…the previous summer, from May to September, I worked without a single day off, excluding bad weather. Moving forward though I intend to take at least 2 days off a week. Lockdown has taken me a step towards retirement.
Q. What does your working year look like?
May to January is peak season for me. In February you work the decent tides off shore, weather permitting taking anglers out into the deep water marks for Spurdogs, Tope and Rays. March is for maintenance, and come April we are gearing up for the new season again and fish are just starting to arrive. Each port around the country these times vary to suit the fishing patterns.
Q. What’s your proudest catch?
I’m proud of every fish I catch as every catch means something. I love fishing! I like seeing the smile on people’s faces when they catch a fish. We frequently get lots of novice fisherman and it’s really satisfying to educate, inspire, and teach them.
Q. Why type of fish do you catch?
A whole range of fish, including bream, rays, tope and plaice. I’ve seen tuna for the first time in Poole Bay this year. The dynamics of the water have changed due to global warming. Fish that we used to consistently get, we’re not seeing anymore - fish such as flounders and cod. We’re not seeing the volumes of mackerel anymore either. Mackerel are generally a summer species but my best day’s mackerel fishing this year was on 10th November. Water temperature is definitely changing.
At the start of summer everyone focuses on bream – it’s a fabulous sport fish which is great to catch as it puts up a good fight. The socio-economic value for bream to the charter industry far outweighs its commercial value, so we also make sure that anglers only keep up to a maximum of five fish and put the rest back. This conservation method is already widespread amongst reputable charter skippers and anglers.
As the season progresses, we move onto sea bass, another great sport fish. The ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) change legislation annually on the number of sea bass that can be taken by an individual each day, this helps to maintain good fish stocks.
We regularly see dolphins throughout the summer which is wonderful. I feel incredibly lucky as my office view changes every day. Personally, I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world; getting to put a smile on people’s faces when they catch fish!
Q. What is the economic value to the area of the sector?
Charter angling brings an economic value to Poole of circa £6 million. This was calculated by the New Economics Foundation in 2018. We are an integral part of the economic community and landscape. There are fewer boats in existence now since the survey was carried out, mainly through retirement.
The Charter Fishing Boat industry is very expensive to get in to, with a large initial cost outlay. This does impact on new young blood entering the industry. We don’t see the young fishermen coming through like they used to, on a regular basis. When I was a youngster some fishing clubs had as many junior members as senior members. This is not the case anymore, with virtually no junior membership. It’s a shame.”
Mistresslindacharters.com or call 07860 794183