In this exclusive interview, founder of Embryo Angling Habitats, Danny Fairbrass, and the organisation’s figurehead, Matt Pettitt, discuss the project’s plans to preserve the future of coarse fishing
Paul Monkman: Matt, you have been in the role as Embryo’s top man for seven months now. How have you found the job so far?
Matt Pettitt: Super interesting, to be honest. It’s massively different to anything I’ve ever done before, but with my fishing background, what more could you ask for in a job? No two days are ever the same, whether it’s dealing with stock, sorting out finances, putting up fences or trying to organise things for the future. It’s so varied, which is what I’m loving about it.
PM: Can you expand on what you’ve done in those seven months?
MP: At the outset, Dan and I tried to put together a plan of exactly what we want to do, working out strategies and agreeing on how we are going to prioritise things. Dan obviously wants to make a big difference and it’s easy to get carried away, but we want to build something for the future that is going to last.
A lot of work has gone into chasing the many different leads we’ve been given, many of which have resulted in dead ends as they’ve not been what we’re looking for. There are hundreds of places out there we could take over and run, but we aren’t looking at competing with people; our model is to build things from scratch and restore places that have been neglected, so it’s important we get the right waters.
Lots of research has gone into working out who to use for otter fencing and what system to adopt. We are trying to make an informed decision and spend our money as wisely as possible, which will hopefully result in us getting the best deal for our waters and act as a blueprint for people looking to spend their cash the same way.
As Carp-Talk readers will be aware, we’ve also taken on a three-lake site in North Cave, East Yorkshire, which will open at the start of April. The model we’ve used to create this fishery is something we hope to roll out around the country as we acquire more waters.
PM: In the video released in the summer confirming Matt’s appointment, Danny requested help with acquiring the following: a vehicle, laptop, machinery, somebody to help build a website and some land to stock VS fish. How successful have you been in acquiring the help you’ve needed?
Danny Fairbrass: We were lucky enough to get a brand new, £1500 HP ProBook 430 G1 laptop from Dan Hicks, the MD of Afinitek. The website has been built for free by a company called Herdl, whose managing director, Ged Day, is a keen carp angler. They’ve put in a huge amount of effort getting the site together and we couldn’t be happier with it. All the printing work we’ve required has been done for nothing, and we’re also hoping to get the signage for all the lakes for free as well courtesy of Mike O’Neill, the MD of Oneillmodernmedia (OMM). We must also say thanks to Dave Marvell of Otter Stop, who has helped us fence the North Cave site and another lake in the Lea Valley. Otter Stop has also showed us how to fence a lake as quickly and professionally as possible, so we’ll be able to put that into our own operations when working with volunteers.
We’d still love a pickup-style vehicle we could use for transferring fish, even if we could just borrow one for the odd day here and there when required, so if anyone can help us out, that would be greatly appreciated.
PM: If we can just talk about Embryo itself, what do you see as its primary goals and objectives?
MP: Embryo’s goals and objectives are to reduce the impact of predation on UK waters.
Having seen so many special places I have fished get destroyed, what appealed to me about this project was the opportunity to help protect places under threat. We also want to revitalise places that have gone fallow or fallen off the radar and turn them into good, affordable fisheries. We don’t just mean big-carp waters either; we’re also interested in creating things like small, community-style, beginners’ waters to help get kids and locals involved.
PM: How does Embryo see itself? Is it a business or a charity?
DF: As a limited company, essentially it’s a business, but it’s run like a charity. As it grows and we get more venues, we’ll probably put together a board of governors who will ensure it continues to be run in the same way if anything ever happens to me
PM: Are you the only person funding it?
PM: Do you want anybody else to help fund it?
DF: Absolutely! I’d love for other people to become involved financially, but I want to establish a bit of a track record first and prove to people that it works before I can expect them to invest.
We also plan to raise money ourselves by running slideshow nights around the country, and that cash will go towards fencing a local lake, or whatever is required at the time. These nights will take place in the autumn and winter, and we plan to give plenty of notice, as we don’t want to clash with anything that’s already happening or tread on anybody’s toes.
The speakers will also perform talks exclusive to the night itself. For example, I’ve been given permission by a no-publicity lake to use pictures during one slideshow, so if I do a talk about that, it’ll be a complete one-off. We hope to attract audiences of 1000 or more for these nights, as the more people that attend, the greater the ticket revenue.
PM: What are Embryo’s plans for 2015?
MP: At the moment we’re trying to secure as many venues as we can. There are a couple of venues that look promising and could be secured soon, but it’s such a difficult process that they could take weeks, even months, to finalise. We’ve already had a few incidents of places getting very close before the landowner has had their head turned at the eleventh hour and somebody has gazumped us. However, once we’ve gained a bit of a track record and got a model to show people, it should become a little bit easier for us to secure leases.
PM: We’ve seen the North Cave site in Carp-Talk before and you mentioned it earlier. How did that come about, and why did you choose it?
DF: It chose us, to be perfectly honest. Clive Gibbins, who has represented Korda in the North for 20-odd years and owns a day-ticket lake nearby, knew about the site and the landowner, so he put in a good word for us and started the negotiation process like that. Matt was appointed shortly afterwards and he took over the reins from there.
PM: What have you done with the site so far and what are your intentions for it?
MP: Our first job was to fence the whole three-lake complex to secure it. In terms of the stock, we’ve introduced 157 VS fish into Pit 1 and 28 into Pit 3. We also have an arrangement with a venue in the Lea Valley to fence their lake in exchange for some superfluous fish. Amongst them are 50-60 lovely, big-framed commons up to 20lb and they will be split between the two pits. We also need to put in two car parks and a track, because the terrain around the lakes is still pretty soft.
Pits 1 and 3 are out-and-out carp waters and will be accessible on the same ticket when they open on 1st April. There will be two types of memberships available: weekend tickets, running from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, and midweek tickets, covering Monday afternoon to Friday morning, each priced at £150 for the year. There will be 25 members on each rota for the first year. We’ll almost certainly do some winter tickets too, because there’s no doubt lakes fish better in the spring if they are fished throughout the winter. Pit 2 will not open until 2016.
PM: Just finally on the North Cave site, have you thought of a name for it yet and how can people get a ticket?
DF: The name will simply be South Ings Lane, which is where the site is situated. When the website (www.embryoangling.org) goes live in March, there will be a membership form on there where people can apply for a ticket. There is also an informal meeting night arranged for any prospective members who would like to come along, find out more and register their interest on Thursday 12th March at the Duke of Cumberland pub in North Ferriby. Matt, fishery manager Colin Jagger and I will be there from 7.30pm; we hope to see as many faces as possible.
What I will say is that there will be no favouritism, and the members won’t be made up of my and Clive’s mates; it’ll be the regular angler who can’t get on the more exclusive syndicates who will get a ticket.
These VS Fisheries carp were amongst the first to be stocked into South Ings Lane
PM: Will you only ever stock English fish into Embryo waters?
DF: Absolutely, yes! We’re growing fish from eggs at Gigantica in France these days and it’d be so easy to pop some of them in a bucket and bring them over, but that is absolutely never going to happen. It’s so important that we protect the British heritage and spread it around. As time progresses, we’ll be able to take some strains from famous places around the country and grow them on, and then hopefully introduce them to venues around the country.
PM: A small token of people have criticised the motives of Embryo, and, in particular, Danny. How do you respond to the following criticisms:
1. The only goal of Embryo is to make money in the long run.
MP: If this is a money-making scheme, it’s going to be the worst venture in history. In fact, it’s actually impossible for Dan to make any money from it…
DF: Yes, that’s true; nobody will make a penny from it. It’s been written into our memorandum and articles of association (the guidelines of how the business is going to be run) that no individual will ever take a dividend from the company. That means I will only ever be able to put money in and won’t ever be able take anything out of it.
PM: 2. Danny is only doing this because he sees predation as a threat to the future success of Korda.
DF: If anyone is still in doubt how much I love carp fishing, they’ve got their head wedged firmly in the ground. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of cynical people around and if they still can’t understand my love of the sport, it’s not worth even trying to convince them. I want fishing to grow and grow and become cooler simply because I love it, not because of any financial gain.
PM: 3. Danny’s efforts and money would be best suited supporting the Predation Action Group and the Angling Trust.
DF: I fully support the PAG and always have done. I’ve had many in-depth conversations with Tim Paisley and Rob Hughes, and I know they are making inroads, but I think it’s going to be a thankless task for about 10 years while they try to get somewhere at Government level, and then everyone will hail them as heroes when they get the result they want. All credit to them for being able to work that hard and that long for no thanks whatsoever.
For me, I want to try and achieve something where I can see a tangible result, but if the two things are happening separately and achieving what we want from different ends, then that’s brilliant for our sport.
PM: Not wanting to dwell on the negatives, what has the overall response been to Embryo?
DF: Massively positive. It’s very humbling to see the number of responses we have received from people offering their help. To think that people trust me and the motives of Embryo, that cancels out any negative comments that may appear on the Internet.
MP: We tried to get back to as many people as we could, but like Dan says, the number of emails we got was vast. Nonetheless, we have logged everyone’s details, so as soon as we do something in their area, we’ll be getting in touch with them.
PM: How long before Embryo becomes self-sufficient, if it ever does?
DF: It’s impossible to say. Maybe five years, maybe 10 years, but that day will come.
PM: Do you think you’ll ever employ somebody else as well as Matt?
DF: Absolutely. Eventually there will be regional people, reporting to Matt, who run up to 10 different venues. I mentioned earlier about the fundraising events, and we wanted to start them this winter, but the amount of effort required getting the lakes to where they are now has meant Matt just hasn’t had the time to organise them.
PM: Finally, where do you see Embryo 10 years from now?
DF: Ten years from now, I’d like to think we’ll have 50 venues around the nation, from Scotland to Cornwall and Wales to Norfolk. As well as that, I hope we’ll have helped dozens of other fisheries preserve their waters and reduce the number of fish falling victim to predation.
I also hope that when we’ve got our own fish-farming operations around the country we can contribute to what the Environment Agency is doing and help put fish back into the rivers. Whether it’s Thames barbel or Norfolk roach, it would be fantastic to get to the point where we can help. It’s certainly not just carp that we stand for.
PM: Do you have a get-out clause if things don’t go according to plan?
DF: No, I don’t do failure!