“I spent the mid to late 1990s travelling in Australia and America,” Sharon Boyle, commercial fishing manager at Mara Media, told Fishing News.

“Living in New York, I’d always look out for an Irish paper for some home news, and there was an article about the Cert College in Killybegs, which was promoting its upcoming business courses. I felt the time was right to swap my passport for the school bag once more, and moved back to Ireland, to Killybegs.”

Established in 2005, Mara Media is a publishing and event management company based in Annagry, West Donegal. The business publishes a range of magazines, including the monthly commercial fishing industry journal The Skipper. Mara Media also arranges the hugely popular Irish and Scottish Skipper Expos.

“Whilst at college, I got to know quite a few people in the fishing industry, and I knew of the magazine The Skipper. Soon after completing my course, there was a job advertised looking for a salesperson – and I jumped at the opportunity to work in this industry.

“The job was based near my home village, and I knew Hugh Bonner, the owner, which was a bonus. I went for the interview and thankfully I was successful – and as they say, the rest is history.”

Sharon’s initial role with Mara Media was to sell advertising in The Skipper. “I still remember my first advert sale, I was so nervous. It was under Hugh’s supervision – a call to Barry Sharkey, then owner of Barry Electronics.”

With the Irish Skipper Expo established in 2004, and the Scottish Skipper Expo added to the annual events calendar at the request of the industry in 2011, Sharon’s role progressed to that of commercial fishing manager.

From Macduff to Mevagissey, port visits are an essential part of setting up the Skipper Expos. Sharon, who has been in the role for 25 years this year, says that as they are industry-led events, it’s vital to get out and about to meet with fishermen and listen to their ideas for the next show.

Unsurprisingly, given the diverse nature of her work, Sharon rarely has a ‘standard day at the office’. “There is no typical day. Every day can bring a different challenge, every day can bring a different success, no two days are the same at my desk – and that’s what I like about my job.

“I’m lucky that I have industry support to call on when needed. I pride myself on being there to help, support and advise my customers to the best of my ability.

“My core responsibilities are working on The Skipper monthly magazine, looking after the advertising both in print and online, liaising with our editor Niall Duffy, and organising and preparing the two commercial fishing expos – the only two in the UK and Ireland.

“I also look after the exhibitors, taking their stand bookings, guiding them on the best position available, and sharing advice and my experiences with new exhibitors – which is very important. It’s not just about the stand sale, it’s about the right match.

“All-round event management takes me from visiting other industry shows in Denmark and Norway, and venue site visits, to helping arrange show contractors, sourcing reduced hotel rates, building show floorplans, and running social media promotions – but most importantly, working with industry to deliver a great show experience, and ensuring that, where possible, expectations are met.”

Meeting those expectations means a great deal of behind-the-scenes work for Sharon and the team – who number six in total. “Challenges are a day to day feature of my desk. When setting up a show, it’s getting the right date to suit all aspects of the industry – then working this date in with the venue and setting up the contractors, and everybody else.

“It’s great being part of the small team here at The Skipper, where we all pull together. I enjoy working with people, and there is such a diverse range of customers from all over the world. I love seeing the shows come together after many months of work, and hearing success stories from the exhibitors and visitors who benefit from the expos.

“It’s fantastic the shows are getting so much recognition, especially when a fellow exhibitor is recommending the show to other companies within industry.”

The Skipper Expo team of Noreen Boyle, Niall Duffy, Sharon Boyle and Hugh Bonner.

Of course, another part of Sharon’s role is to attend the events she organises. “Skipper Expos, whilst they are very professional, are also a great platform for promoting friendship and community.

“This industry is very people-driven, from small communities all over the coasts – from Castletownbere to Shetland, we are all one big fishing family. I have made lifelong friends over the last 25 years, and I’m grateful for their support and friendship.”

Despite her hard work in arranging the events, some things remain outside Sharon’s control. “We work in a unique industry with its own unique challenges. We are all affected by changes in fisheries policy, whether we are setting up an exhibition, selling fish, buying fish, or selling vessels, engines, pumps, nets, electronics, chandlery, fish bins, deck machinery or anything else – changes in policy greatly affect companies’ budgeting and planning.

“Not to mention the challenge of the weather! I often pray for good weather leading up to a show, and a good storm during a show, to allow more skippers to attend.”

This year’s Irish Skipper Expo takes place at the UL Sport Arena, Limerick on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 February.

The Scottish Skipper Expo opens the day after the Fishing News Awards, taking place on Thursday 9 and Friday 10 May, at P&J Live in Aberdeen.

More information on both events is available here.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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