• Kim Burke

12/ I became crew on a fishing vessel!

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Finally!After a lot of perseverance with weather, I managed to arrange with skipper Mario, to come out for a full days shift on the water to gain raw, first hand research.

Yesterday was hands down the most insightful day of research I have had since the start of the academic year. In the past 3 months I have been relentlessly wracking my brain to find a solution to the abundance of ghost gear lost in our ocean from the fishing industry. I believe that yesterday I took the greatest step yet to doing so.

On Monday I set off in my car for the 4hr journey from Dundee to Tayvallich, a small West coast village. With an early nights sleep, and my alarm set for 3.45am, to meet the boys at the pier for 4.20am.

My aim for the day was to take a step back with current ideas, watch, listen and ask lots of questions! Walking to the pier with by waterproofs and loo (bucket) in hand, I can safely say I was a little apprehensive for a long day totally out-with my comfort zone!

Setting off at 4.30am, my first action was to get a warm coffee in me!

The boats crew was skipper Mario, Callum and Zander and myself.

The day followed the following schedule:

4.30am - Set off for the fishing ground, between Giah and the Sound of Jura. The boys prepped tthe boat, which included cutting up bait, (salted Herring). The journey took aprox an hour and a half; the two boys slept in the bunk during this time. The journey was interesting as it was pitch black, (due to the time of day, winter month and very little inhabitance around), I was a little disorientated. To my surprise, Mario only used a single spot light to check for buoys in the water whilst following the on screen map for directions.

(Below is an image of the Plotter they used to mark the line of creels. The red mark being the Buoy marking each end of the line. The dark blue water represents deeper water, and the light blue, shallower.)

6.00am - Reach fishing ground and haul in first lines. The prawn creels were spread across a large area of water. They had 9 'fleets' out, with 100 creels on each. The first two fleets were brought in by the guys whilst I stood back and watched, taking photos and keeping a close eye on their actions, especially the buoys.

7.00am - Continue to haul up creels. The guys each had a 'station' on the boat which allowed them to get the job done quicker. Station one was hauling and emptying contents of creels. Station two was sorting catch into assigned boxes for size of prawn (S,M,L). Station three was baiting and stacking creels.

8.00am - Location moved to put creels back out again to catch further prawns over night.

9.00am - 3.00pm - After aprox 3 hauls the sun finally began to rise, which was nice and woke me up a fair bit. This process of hauling, sorting the catch and stacking creels was repeated for each line, whilst moving location and putting the creels back out. As to my surprise, this ate up the day pretty quick and before I knew it we were set sail back for home.

4.30pm - Arrived back in Tayvalliach and the catch was unloaded at the pier into vans, to begin its journey to Spain. According to the boys, it was a good day for catch, receiving 19 small crates, 7 medium and 1 large; totally aprox 2,225 prawns. A good days catch is crucial to them as they are paid depending on size of the catch, not a salary.

5.00pm - I set off to drive back to my home in Helensburgh for a well earned good nights sleep and good dinner from the parents!

Interesting conclusions from the trip:

- They often loose buoys/lines to ferries as they like to fish close to the ferry path. They are surprised ferries don't see their buoys as they are so high up, but they are often driven over.

As a result of this they have tried to use neon tape on the buoys but 'it just peels off'.

- They work extraordinarily fast! Any items they are using get torn and worn, so items must be durable. Including the buoys as they often tow them behind the boat when manoeuvring to lay creels back down.

- Dog Fish (member of the shark family) is a common by-catch and pest for the fishermen. They called it the 'rat of the sea'. Although they can sell this to a friend, a crab fisherman, for £15 a large box, to use as bait. They filled 2 large boxes yesterday, with sometimes 3-5 dogfish in one creel! Whilst the fish don't harm the catch, they eat the bait in the creel and deter prawns from entering the creel.

- They are keen for a buoy that could be more visible! Although one of the things they emphasied is that it must remain cheap. Another thing I discovered when out was that they use 2 buoys, either end of the line, as loose slack between the buoys. makes it easier for them to catch the rope with the hook.

Overall it was a pretty cool day, I got to see species of fish I have never seen before and it was totally out of my comfort zone! It was amazing to see first hand on a commercialised level where our seafood comes from but also where 60% of our ocean waste comes from.

The day for us didn't entail any loss of equipment but the boys each had several stories to tell about the loss of equipment on previous occasions. These stories primarily featured ferries and other water users driving over equipment resulting in the loss of entire strings of creels. It was great to have the ability to chat to them all day about my project and ideas to prevent them from loosing their equipment.

My next steps following on from this trip will definitely include exploring the prevention of ghost gear, as a result of the information shared on board. I feel I now have the ability to begin sketching and developing an idea based upon this research.

But for now it is safe to say I am knackered!

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