PRISONERS have started making lobster pots under an initiative prompted by a Shoreham businessman.
The fishing industry is currently fighting to survive so any new opportunity to develop products need to be looked into.
Jim Partridge, who runs Monteum from Fisherman’s Wharf, Brighton Road, is used to such challenges. He is prepared to invest in new ideas, often at times when others will not.
His latest project has seen the inmates of Lewes Prison building lobster pots. It has taken two years to develop a working relationship and during March, the initial kit production started.
Education was the key issue, with many hours spent with the inmates showing them how to build these pots. Currently, they are making 30 a week.
Mr Partridge said: “We are hoping it to reach 100 a week over the next two months. It was also a case of teaching the prison warders how to make them, as they will be supervising the production, giving them the opportunity to train newcomers to the project.”
He said the inmates had been positive from the outset and there could even be an opportunity to make it an NVQ, so they could prove they had learned a trade.
“I gather the prison service in 2013 with 87,000 employees turned over 6.1 million on outside work,” explained Mr Partridge. “At Lewes, they were already recycling poppies for the British Legion and converting broken pallets into kindling wood. Neither of these was particularly taxing on the mind.
“I have been playing with fishing gear for over 50 years and even I found making pots quite a challenge. The inmates had absolutely no marine experience, so they will have something to show at the end of it.
“All seem keen and in the early stages I had excellent backup from my local MP, Tim Loughton, who has been very supportive to the region’s fishermen. There was no clock watching and teamwork has developed that even the warders have not seen before.”
Production begins in Shoreham, where the basic raw materials are gathered at the quay and the kit for each pot is put together before being sent to Lewes.
Mr Partridge explained: “At Shoreham, we cut the sheets of netting to the right length, the steel likewise is cut to the right length and is then bent and then plastic dipped.
“The bases and the doors are punched out of large plastic sheets. The pot frames are delivered in plastic coils and cut to length and then we weld all the plastic pipes together.
“My team of two, Chris Huxtable and Will Howorth, have a high rate of turnover between them. Stock control is very important and each pot is delivered to Lewes as its own kit in a plastic bag in 50 units at a time.”
Already pots have been sold to the Channel Islands, Newlyn and Wales. Mr Partridge uses them on his own boat, along with several local fishermen.
He said: “It is a completely different working atmosphere to anything commercial that I have ever experienced. The production area at Lewes is cleaned twice a day, all tools are signed for and checked and they like to involve two inmates to make each pot as it keeps them productive.
“This of course would not be the case outside as it would not be cost effective.
“I have a new 12m crabber hull being delivered in the next few weeks made by Dale Nelson, which will be fitted out on my quay as a joint venture with Sovereign Boats Ltd. My pots will of course be used on this.”
Mr Partridge pointed out the fishing industry was not in the best of health at the moment but there was no real worry about crab and lobster stocks.
“I believe that all fish stocks are sustainable,” he said. “However, certain methods of fishing are not sustainable and as a result, we have to concentrate as far as possible on sustainable methods. What I am doing now is trying to help achieve this with this extension to my business at Shoreham.”