George Cleave Fish Merchant
5th April 2022
Whenever possible, all our fish comes from George. Not just because we like to support sustainable local business, but because we know he will deliver us the freshest and best quality fish available. In the past, we bought fish from George’s first boss and have since watched this lad go off on his own, make a name for himself and generally cause ripples in the top end fish market in Cornwall and beyond.
We spent some time with this young entrepreneur while he explained the roots of his business and his connection to Cornwall and the fishing industry.
“Everyone on my gran’s side of the family are fishermen. My mum paints fish and my dad is in the Fisherman’s Friends. I’ve been part of the lifeboats for almost 10 years.” George grew up surrounded by sea farers and recounts how Port Isaac harbour used to be teeming, “As kids we had our own dinghies and a couple of lobster pots each. We loved it. We’d come home from school and just row out into the bay and go fishing. Afterwards the old fishermen would help us bring our little boats up on trailers. They loved it too. It’s nice to see a few young lads still doing it, but there aren’t as many fishermen in the village nowadays. It’s a tough profession to be in, what with big ships out to sea, boats coming over from Europe and commercial fishing ruining the marine environment.”
“I work as sustainably as possible, but I’m always transparent with my customers, basically, I buy fish at auction and sell it on. There’s a skill to it that I’ve learnt over time, you’ve got to understand the fishing industry and the methods of fishing. That way I get high quality fish at the best prices for the niche businesses that I work with. I’m always honest. I’ll always buy the best, but if the weather’s bad, I’m not going to lie and say the fish came from the day boat. I can get it for my customers off the bigger boats, and 9 times out of 10 they say that’s fine, because they trust my judgement.”
“I always loved going to the fish markets in Newlyn. They were savage. It’s all very cloak and dagger. The old merchants try and bully out the less experienced, and they are ruthless. Recently, due to the pandemic, all the fish markets went online. This has helped curb the corruption within the auctions. It's a very secretive trade, no one likes to let on how much they pay for stuff to other merchants. You learn a knack for gambling on certain catches. Some people call it being a master of the dark arts. I miss the live auctions, but it’s also great now that’s it’s gone online as I have access to the bigger markets, such as the Brixham, that I wouldn’t have attended previously.”
“I’ve worked in the industry from a young age, sweeping floors for a local guy in the village. But it was in Australia that I found my passion. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I saw how well a fish wholesale business could run and I decided I wanted the same for myself. Back in Port Isaac I leased a small unit by the quay and launched my business. It started off as a seafood school. I was doing filleting lessons for holiday makers. Then a few restaurants and businesses heard I’d gone off on my own and asked me to supply fish for them. I also ran a fish counter out of the unit for a bit during the summer, but you know what it’s like in the holidays… I prefer working wholesale. It snowballed, and obviously changed a lot over lockdown, it forced us to be different and better. The business has grown naturally. From the quayside container to a commercial unit at the top of town, with a fleet of 4 vans darting around Cornwall and going back and forth to London 2 or 3 times a week.”
We have seen George and his business grow significantly in recent years and it’s a privilege to be able to support him. We have never had better quality fish, consistent and always incredibly fresh. What we do is simple; good honest food, with taste and quality at the heart of it. No fuss or frills.
So next time you’re tucking into our fish pie, attending a wedding we are catering or getting squiffy at one of our supper clubs, you can rest assured that you are supporting sustainable fishing, Cornish industry, and good local people.