It’s high time to write a new post. I’ve spent a lot of time at sea recently with several trips on different boats and only short periods back on dry land. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
My last trip was a research cruise on a trawler. It’s part of an ongoing project to ascertain the best mesh-size and net configuration to minimise the catch of small and juvenile rockcod without reducing the overall catch of commercial species. So far the results look encouraging and show that by fitting a special panel to the cod-end which allows small fish to swim free from the top of the net, not only is the catch of undersized fish reduced but the overall catch of larger fish is increased. Small fish block the holes in the net and so the water pressure inside the net prevents other fish from being swept up…if you have ever tried catching a fish by scooping it up with a bucket you’ll understand that you need the water to flow through the net to catch the fish. Anyway, I’m getting technical and boring.
A few days before the research cruise I was at sea on another trawler on a commercial trip. It was a very nice boat with a great atmosphere onboard and so the month I spent onboard passed relatively quickly. After suffering from fairly poor catches in the Falklands waters the vessel steamed out to the high seas to target squid (illex). The catches were up and down but at times were amazing with the net being hauled onboard with close to 50 tonnes of squid each time. Always an impressive sight to see a net the size of a bus being hauled onboard, though the straining noises of the winches and the occasional snapping of steel cables keeps you on edge and on your toes! Especially when coupled with rough weather and 50 tonnes of squid start sliding across the deck. During one such trawl as the net was almost onboard, there was a problem with the main engine and the ship lost power and was at the mercy of the waves. Beam on to 10 metre swells made the ship roll hard over, a couple of rolls were approaching the point of no return and there were a few nervous glances on the bridge. Eventually though the net was hauled safely and a couple of hours later the engineers had worked their magic and we were once again under power.
My trip previous to that had been on a Korean jigger. Jigging is a weird method of fishing for squid whereby huge powerful lights illuminate the water attracting squid up from the depths. Lures are lowered into the water and winched back in with a jigging motion (hence the name) to attract the squid to the lure, once caught they are flicked onto the deck. At times when lots of squid are being caught the squid rain down onto the deck…a quite surreal experience. One hundred such vessels were fishing here this year and generally fished in quite close quarters. Therefore the collective lights from these vessels almost turns night into day, they are so bright they can be seen easily from space and appear on satellite pictures as lost cities in the ocean. To give you some idea of just how bright they are, each vessel may have about 200 lights on deck each of 3,000 watts, thats like six thousand hundred watt light bulbs! Standing on deck under those lights can give you a serious ‘sunburn’ and glancing up at them is as blinding as if you were to stare at the sun.
The jigging fleet is comprised mainly of Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean boats and conditions onboard are variable. So too are the ways the crew are treated and on some vessels the human rights can be appalling. Most years in the Falklands there are incidences where crew of these vessels decide to take their chances in the freezing waters and attempt to try and swim for shore rather than remain onboard and put up with maltreatment, abuse, lack of food, long working hours and poor living conditions. Unfortunately this often results in men drowning as the cold waters saps the strength of even the strongest swimmers.
I didn’t witness any abuse on the three jiggers I worked on this year however a few weeks after I got off one of them a crewman did go overboard whilst the vessel was transhipping with a reefer vessel. Fortunately he was found on the reefer and was later repatriated to his home country. There was also an incident where I witnessed a fur seal being caught and butchered onboard and after I reported this the vessel was asked to come into port for an investigation. Unfortunately no prosecution was brought for catching the fur seal but the vessel was fined a six figure number for failing to make an entry/exit report after illegally spending the night illegally fishing in Argentine waters.
So those are a few of my tales from the past few months. For now though I am on land and looking forward to spending some time with Zoe and the children. End of term is coming up and I will have three weeks at home with the kids while Zoe goes to work. I’m not sure how I will entertain them for three weeks, in winter, with no vehicle. Even the pool is closed for a refurb so If you have any rainy day ideas I’d be glad of them. Perhaps I’ll get the kids blogging?