“Fishing has always been in my blood. It’s all I’ve ever known. I could never see myself doing anything else,” Kilkeel-based fisherwoman Erin Chambers told Fishing News.

With Brian Chambers – CEO of the Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, and an eighth-generation fisherman – as a father, it’s perhaps no surprise to see Erin follow suit.

“When I was growing up, I’d see Dad go out on the boat, and when I came home from school, I’d go to watch him come in – that was my favourite thing to do.

“Then, as I got older, I would spend the summer holidays going out with him and learning different things and how to work on the boat. The first summer I was old enough to work properly, I knew I didn’t want to get a job anywhere else – I wanted to go and work with him.

“As soon as I’d completed that first summer with him, I knew that fishing was what I wanted to do. I just loved it. I knew fishing was going to be my career.”

rin, a qualified marine mammal observer, is keen to develop a deeper understanding of the environment and the industry in which she works. “I love Kilkeel and the local industry, but I would also love to go and experience other types of fishing. I’ve only really ever fished for crabs, lobsters, scallops and prawns – but I’d love to go on pelagic boats and experience different types of fishing.”

The influence of Erin’s father is evident, as is that of her grandfather, who was instrumental in setting up the North East Lobster Co-operative – a pioneering forerunner of the v-notching initiative. As an early-career fisherwoman, Erin is keen to learn not just about sustainable fishing, but to develop a deeper understanding of the environment in which she works.

This means that when it comes to a typical day, Erin has to balance studying with fishing – along with working in other areas of the industry.

“The more I got to go out fishing and see different environments and different marine life, the more I knew I wanted to learn about the science side of things. I finished my A-levels, and then applied to study marine science at Ulster University.

“I’ll be going into my third year in September. I love my course – it’s brilliant. I’m learning about the science of the ocean, and then I’m getting to go out on the boat and see it come to life. It all comes together perfectly.”

From September until May, Erin is at university in Colerain. “My campus is two hours away, but I come home on Fridays – and if the weather suits, I’ll go fishing with my dad.”

Fishing out of Kilkeel on the Girl Beth N 312, Erin and ger father target lobster, crab, prawns and scallops.

“Depending on the tide, it’s usually quite an early start to the day – around 5am or 6am. We go out and aim to haul a few hundred creels. We work together as a team doing that. Dad will work the hauler, and I’ll empty the creels and stack them.

“We’ll then bait the creels and shoot them again. You don’t always get a good catch, and no two days are the same. Some days it’s bad, but others it’s good – you’ve just got to take it as it is.

“Whilst we’re out, we’ll also be v-notching any berried lobsters. You really get to see the value that the programme brings to the sustainability of lobsters.”

With hauling, rebaiting, shooting – and v-notching – complete, it’s time for Erin to benefit from her father’s long experience. “My goal is to become a skipper and own my own vessel. Dad is trying to train me up at the minute to take the boat on and skipper it myself.

“He’s usually teaching me on the way back in as we’re finishing up. We’ll clean everything up, clear the deck, put the mats away, and then he’ll get me to drive the boat while standing alongside.”

When not at sea, Erin also gets to experience other areas of the industry, working in the factory and retail shop for Sea Source, the Kilkeel-based fishermen-owned co-operative for catching, landing and selling the local catch.

Alongside studying and fishing, Erin also works at Sea Source – a fishermen-owned co-operative which includes processing and retail fish sales.

“In the seafood shop, I’ll be helping with customers. Sea Source is all about sustainable seafood. Customers love to know that I also fish and catch some of the local products.”

With her final year at university on the horizon, Erin could be forgiven for setting fishing aside to concentrate on her studies. However, being a ninth-generation fisherwoman of Chambers stock – a family that has pioneered sustainable fishing methods – Erin has other ideas.

“Next year is my dissertation. Mine is focused on assessing the implications of gear on marine environments, and how to make it more sustainable. For the research, I’ll use underwater footage captured by towing a scientific camera behind the vessel before a dredge. The camera will then be deployed again over the same location after the dredge. That data will then be compared, and the damage assessed.

“I’ll also be assessing bycatch by analysing existing data and collaborating with local fishers by questionnaire and interviews to collect additional information on non-target species caught by different gear types.

“The objective is to be able to include recommendations for sustainable fishing practices, identify areas requiring conservation measures, and increase awareness among stakeholders regarding the ecological consequences of various gear types.”

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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