Covering the coast, Burnham Market, Wells, Holt & surrounding villages

Making waves

27th May 2024

She’s one of Britain’s few female commercial fishermen and she’s just published her first book. Sarah Hardy chats to Ashley Mullenger who is based in Wells

There’s lots that is surprising about Ashley Mullenger – and some of it comes as a surprise to her, too. From her long blonde hair to her amazing career change, to her first book, and her increasingly prominent position as a vocal supporter of Britain’s fishing industry, and more! But, to start with, Ash, as she prefers to be called, is a warm and chatty woman in her mid-30s who perhaps can’t quite believe where life has taken her. 

A landlubber by birth, she was born in Oxford, and spent time in Cambridgeshire before arriving in Great Massingham just before she became a teenager. She studied drama and media studies A-levels but had no great calling for a career. ‘I was always outdoorsy,’ she says, before adding that she ended up working for several years in an office.

It was a chance work’s outing in 2008 that was her epiphany. ‘We booked a day’s fishing, mackerel fishing, in Wells,’ she says and this, without being too dramatic, changed her life. She was hooked!

The skipper was Nigel Storey and the two have become both firm friends and business colleagues and it is this ‘journey’ that Ash had documented in her first book, My Fishing Life: A Story of the Sea, which is now on sale.

The book details everything from how she slowly but surely gained Nigel’s trust, learnt the finer details on how to fish for whelks, crabs, lobsters, cod and more, discovered how to repair and maintain fishing boats and developed traditional skills such as baiting a pot and knot tying.  

The pair now co-own two fishing boats, Fair Lass and Saoirse, and Ash has never looked back, including winning the coveted title of Under-10m Fisherman of the Year in the Fishing News Awards in 2022 – the first woman to do so. ‘It has been emotional, frustrating, challenging and there have been tears. But I am proud of myself,’ she says.

What comes across in the book is just how hard the life of a commercial fisherman is – physically, mentally and financially. Ash explains that it’s hard to commit to a domestic routine as her working life is dominated by the weather and tide times. ‘We might do 14 days on the trot and then in January, we got out for just one day.’ So birthday parties, family events and even trips to the pub have to be sacrificed if fishing conditions are right. She also points out that they can go out to sea for up to 12 hours at a time – and there’s no toilet!

It has been emotional, frustrating, challenging and there have been tears. But I am proud of myself.

Ashley Mullenger

And it is unquestionably a physical job, for example, hauling crab pots back on deck is not for the faint-hearted – and it is also a dangerous one as the sea can be an unpredictable beast, she says, adding that a nasty scratch from a barnacle attached to a crab pot is a pretty common occurrence!

Ash, who is married to heating engineer Rob and lives just outside Wells, is just as passionate about safeguarding the British fishing industry, which is in decline, with the number of fishermen down to an all-time low of just 11,000 in the UK. She says that 80% of all caught seafood goes abroad. ‘Almost all of our whelk catch goes to Asia,’ she adds. ‘I just want to get our great fish to the public; the industry is such a big part of our cultural identity.’ And she also wants more female fishermen. ‘The latest figures show just 2% of all those involved in the fishing industry are women, and that includes desk jobs, factory work, everything. I want women to know that fishing is a great career, every day is different, you really have to problem solve and you learn so many different skills. But you have to love the outdoors!’

Ashley Mullenger © Ellie Adams

Ash can’t quite believe where life has taken her but she is loving it. So much so that she is already thinking about book two. ‘I have lots more stories to tell,’ she laughs. ‘And the fishing industry changes all the time, as new legislation comes out and fresh challenges emerge.’ 

My Fishing Life: A Story of the Sea is published by Robinson, £22. Ash’s Instagram is @thefemalefisherman and you’ll find details on talks and book festival appearances here as they are announced.


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