Noel Cattermole can remember when there were entire fleets putting to sea off the Suffolk coast. Now he’s the last in-shore fisherman working out of Sizewell. He talks about a lifetime in boats and the uncertain future for his trade.

‘There was quite a fishing fleet at Sizewell when I was a boy, four or five full-time, and lots of part-time boats. I’d come down at evenings and weekends and I could see that fishing would suit me. It was hard work, of course, it's never been anything else, but I could see the possibilities and I liked the lifestyle. The fishermen helped each other out.’

Noel Cattermole is the last full-time in-shore fisherman in Sizewell. He takes his boat out of Sizewell by himself as often as the weather allows, regularly has to turn 180° and back again to navigate the prominent sand bank, before climbing to the high bow and jumping to the beach to take the line to the winch. He’s the last of a trade that helped build the economy of the east of England.

Great British Life: Noel Cattermole, last full-time in-shore fisherman at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda MooreNoel Cattermole, last full-time in-shore fisherman at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda Moore

Noel was born in Sweffling, a small village less than 10 miles from the coast, in 1953. He lives with his partner Pat and they have four children, all grown up, and nine grandchildren.

‘I didn’t like school,' he says. 'The only thing I was good at was sport. I passed the exams to get into the grammar school at Leiston, but I hated it and they were probably the worst years of my life. I think now that it must have been character building, the teachers would say that I was holding the other children back. It was horrible, really.’ Unsurprisingly, Noel Cattermole left school the moment he was able, at 17, and headed back down to the beach.

‘When we moved here, I knew nobody, but I used to come down to the village as a boy and there was quite a fishing fleet here then. I could see there’d be room for me. I think I went out on all the boats at one time or another. They were happy to have me help out.

'After a time, I’d go with Jack Fryer, who’d been in the Navy and lived in one of the older cottages at Sizewell. Jack worked with another chap, also called Jack (Darkins) but they were glad to have me help them and gave me a bit of pocket money.

Great British Life: The Suffolk coast Photo: Belinda MooreThe Suffolk coast Photo: Belinda Moore

‘I’d do any job they needed me to do, it was like an apprenticeship really. Jack could see that I was keen and after a while, he asked my father, ‘does your boy want to go fishing, then?’ and my father said ‘yes’ and he said, “I’ll have a boat built and when he leaves school, he can use that.” which he did - The Two Jacks.’

Later, Noel saved up and with the help of a loan from the bank, bought his first boat, Jill-Ann, named after his two sisters. It was built in 1975 at Nunn Bros boatyard in Woodbridge, at the cost of £2,500 (£50,000 - £60,000 today). Over the following years, this was replaced four times by other boats, and wooden boats began to be replaced by glass fibre ones. Noel’s current boat was built by Brian Upson of Aldeburgh, one of the region’s most renowned boat builders.

‘It’s a great shame because Brian won’t build fishing boats any more,’ explains Noel. ‘The changes demanded by the MSC in their new safety requirements actually make the boats less safe.

Great British Life: Noel Cattermole, last full-time in-shore fisherman at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda MooreNoel Cattermole, last full-time in-shore fisherman at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda Moore

‘I never felt afraid of the sea. In those early days, you never wore life jackets or anything, nor was there any compulsory training like there is now. You’re on your own, so if you go overboard or get a rope round your leg, it's the end of the story. Some of the old fishermen thought I was too young to be out on the boat on my own and spoke to my father, but luckily for me, he didn’t see a problem with it.’

Noel would take the boat trawling in the summer for fish like plaice and sole, and get a third share in the catch. He did well; a keen fisherman with a natural aptitude for the trade. ‘It’s what I’ve done all my life, I’ve never known anything different. Probably, if you dropped me in the middle of the city, and said now make a living, I’d be petrified.’

The Cattermole family – Noel, his two sisters, mother and father – lived in a tied cottage at Ness House, a large house overlooking the cliff towards Thorpeness. It was home to the Ogilvie family and is now known as Wardens. The Ogilvies, important landowners in the area, had been responsible for building Thorpeness holiday village; Tudor-bethan cottages, mere, house-in-the-clouds and other attractions.

Great British Life: The coast at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda MooreThe coast at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda Moore

Noel’s father was chauffeur and handyman to the Ogilvies, having given up pig farming after an industrial injury. The Cattermoles lived at Wardens for a decade before Alexander Stuart Ogilvie died and the house had to be sold along with much of the estate, including many Sizewell properties, in order to pay death duties. It gave local people the chance to buy property in the village.

‘The fishing was seasonal,' recalls Noel. 'Long-lining for cod in the winter, along with sprats and herring. In the summer, we went trawling for Dover soles and plaice. You either went trawling or lobster potting for crabs and lobster; most people didn’t do both because you could make a living from one or the other.

‘You could practically set your watch by it; the cod would come in by a certain date in October and be gone again in March.' Now, he says, there are no seasons and the water is too warm.

Great British Life: Noel Cattermole takes his boat out as often as the weather allows Photo: Belinda MooreNoel Cattermole takes his boat out as often as the weather allows Photo: Belinda Moore

'They’ll have cod up in Scotland but there’s none on the east coast now. As years went by, you had to do a little bit of everything. I noticed things started to change 10 or 15 years ago; now there’s no cod at all. We get bass all year round, but 40 years ago, we never saw a bass and now they’re here all the time. They even circumnavigate the British Isles.

‘It’s climate, but I don’t agree with everything they say about global warming. I believe that there are long-term cycles in the weather. Obviously the planet is more industrialised and overcrowded but we’ve always had cycles of weather.' Other things he has to contend with are wind farms and the possibility of a new power station. He and the local part-time inshore fishermen go out between the mass of wind turbines at Galloper and Greater Gabbard. Further off are Scottish Power’s East Anglia One, One North and Two turbines.

There are many debates about their impact on fish stocks in the North Sea, including that they provide a safe haven for fish as boats can’t go near them. What is more contentious is the impact of the power cables that come onshore from the turbine farms close to Sizewell.

Great British Life: The coast at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda MooreThe coast at Sizewell. Photo: Belinda Moore

‘It's the cables coming ashore we have to look out for. They carry enormously powerful currents,’ says Noel, ‘and people say that they are making invisible fences that the fish won’t cross when they migrate down the north sea. There are acres and acres of wind farms out to sea. It doesn’t limit me too much because I don’t go out that far.’

Despite reaching his 70th birthday, Noel has no thought of retirement and will be fishing as long as possible.

‘I’ll carry on, of course I will, as long as I’m physically fit, but in five to 10 years, there won’t be any more like me, doing in-shore full-time fishing.’ The many restrictions and requirements make it almost impossible to make a living from fishing, he says. 'Yet we must be one of the most sustainable food sources, doing no damage and providing local quality food.'