The saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’ generally proved to be the case over the past 12 months, when, once again, variety proved to be the spice of life. In addition to an eclectic mix of new boat and port profiles, features on lobster fishing in Orkney and Shetland, midwater trawling for maatjes herring in the North Sea, salmon drift-netting off the Yorkshire coast and twin-rig trawling for squid in the Moray Firth were possible, thanks to the co-operation of helpful skippers and crews. David Linkie looks back on an eventful 2015.
Above: The first photograph of 2015 was of whitefish boats landing in the late afternoon at Peterhead.
As anticipated, on arriving at Peterhead in late winter sunlight, the south harbour was a hive of activity, with whitefish boats landing for the first market of the year on the following Monday morning, when a Fraserburgh midwater trawler became the first UK boat to land mackerel following the implementation of the pelagic landing obligation.
Fraserburgh was equally busy, with crews boxing, icing and taking aboard stores for their first trip of the New Year, giving the opportunity for photographs that were subsequently used in the first port profile feature of 2015.
The constant unpredictability associated with the fishing industry was highlighted by the fact that, in the same week as Peterhead Port Authority announced a new catch-value record of £171m in 2014, it was also necessary to report that the Northbay Pelagic processing factory, which made a major contribution to the landings total, had been destroyed by fire.
The pendulum of fortune was somewhat restored towards the end of January, when Shetland skipper Trevor Cumming and his sons, Duncan and Owen, left Fraserburgh for Scalloway with their newly-acquired seine-netter, Avrella LK 174.
A succession of calls and emails from potting skippers at Scarborough illustrated the tensions that were developing between some static and mobile-gear skippers. At a time when over 30 visiting scallopers were working in the vicinity, and another 20 applications for access were pending, the local NEIFCA reacted quickly to bring in an emergency byelaw prohibiting all dredging inside six miles, in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of scallop fishing in the area.
After two previous attempts to go to Lochmaddy via two ferries had been knocked on the head by severe storms, during which gusts of over 100 knots caused widespread damage in North Uist, it was a case of third time lucky, to some extent. Unfortunately, rapidly moving weather patterns put paid to spending a day prawn creeling on Donald Archie Nicholson’s new 10m Sutton catamaran, Charlene Ann SY 910, although a double new-boat feature with his brother Ruairidh’s very similar Harmony was made possible.
The required authorisation was given to be onboard the Humber pilot boat which took a pilot from Grimsby out past Spurn Point to meet UK Fisheries’ new 86m freezer-trawler Kirkella H7, as the state-of-the-art vessel completed an 11-day and 3,300-mile delivery passage from the Tersan Shipyard in Turkey. Watching Kirkella emerge through snow blizzards and flying spray, her size and modern, streamlined form quickly became apparent, while making the most of the much-appreciated opportunity to get some photographs before returning to Grimsby and driving over the Humber Bridge in time for the stern trawler to enter the King George Dock in Hull.
Four hours after meeting skipper Sigurbjöorn Reimarsson on board Kirkella the following morning, I had the privilege to officially open the new Crew Hoos building of the Fishermen’s Mission in North Shields. This provides crewmen with 24/7 facilities for washing and drying clothes and making coffee/ tea, together with wi-fi, TV and comfortable seating at all times. Shortly after cutting the ribbon, the Tyne Tunnel quickly loomed ahead at the start of the return drive to Hull, where Sue Atkins, wife of UK Fisheries MD Nigel Atkins, named Kirkella in the time-honoured manner in front of large crowd.
Investment in new builds is always an indication of long-term confidence in the future of sustainable stocks and a progressive fishing industry, so it was particularly encouraging that, in the same month as Kirkella’s arrival, Fishing News was able to include details of two new-builds for Scotland. These were a 24m twin-rig trawler, now being built by Macduff Shipyards for the Fraserburgh family partnership of skippers Adam Tait and his two sons Adam Jr and Jonny, while Wick skipper Andrew Bremmer and his son Andrew signed with Vestvæflet ApS for a 27m seine-netter.
An in-depth feature on Fraserburgh, including continued investment in new harbour development for all sizes of vessels, was next on the schedule.
Infrastructure developments, both in-progress and planned, were also included in the Peterhead port profile feature compiled at the start of what proved to be an eventful month (See Change of Watch).
In the wake of two overnights in quick succession in London, it was a welcome relief to return to normality at the end of the month by spending a day on Holy Island. The main objective of this was to see Sean Brigham and Richard Ward’s new fast potter Freedom B BK 532, a Cygnus Cyclone 35 supplied ready to fish by Murphy Marine Services. As is always the case, regardless of location, the boys went out of their way to help in relation to photographs and supplying information, which also led to a general feature. Rather than rushing off the Island, the decision was quickly made to stay over across the tide (probably influenced by the prospect of fresh crab sandwiches), before following local knowledge, and being the first car to cross the tidal causeway that evening.
Static-gear boats, including Four Jays, Boy Alan, Soph Ash Jay and Vanguard at Scarborough, Bridlington, Burnmouth and Pittenweem respectively, provided the initial focus in the first two weeks, before going to Whitby for the naming ceremony of the new Shetland whitefish trawler Guardian Angell.
New boats also featured prominently at the Skipper Expo in Aberdeen at the end of the month, when orders were placed by Shetland and Peterhead partnerships with Parkol Marine Engineering and Macduff Shipyards, 24 hours after Fraserburgh skipper David Milne, in partnership with Don Fishing, signed a contract with Vestvaeflet Aps for a versatile 27m whitefish vessel.
Change of watch
It would not be an overstatement to say that, nine months ago, Fishing News faced a very uncertain future.
In the issue dated 4 April 2015, the Comment ended with, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask our extremely loyal readership to remain on-side should any unpredictable events be encountered.”
Without doubt, April was a very challenging, and not to say worrying, month. While the emergency pumps were fully-primed, it was extremely reassuring to receive messages of support and practical help from many within the fishing industry.
Although the immediate priority was to ensure that sufficient copy was generated to enable the paper to go to print on time, it was also essential to attend two ‘crisis’ meetings in London.
At the second of these, I met Steve Wright, chief executive of the well-established Kent-based Kelsey Media, for the first time. After just two minutes’ conversation, my immediate impression was that this was a man and a company that could be very important to the future of Fishing News.
The potential change of ownership was in place by the end of April.
Shortly after this, another key meeting took place in Kelsey’s Peterborough office, where planned changes for the paper were discussed before being implemented in the issue of Fishing News that came out during the Skipper Expo in Aberdeen two weeks later.
The previous day, Steve Wright had been ‘welcomed aboard’ by numerous skippers during a whistle-stop tour of Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Macduff.
From the initial contact, Kelsey Media has been extremely positive and supportive. The number of pages was immediately increased to 28, which for the first time were stapled together. On some occasions, this has risen to 32 pages to match the availability of news stories. As a result of the changes, the editorial content in Fishing News each week has increased by 50%, and now averages 23,000 words compared to 15,000 previously.
New features, including free readers’ adverts, Looking Back (rotating on a weekly basis between Where are they now?, Fishmarkets of yesteryear, Ports of the past and original news stories from a specific year), together with the restored crossword/puzzle page, were phased-in, at the same time as former popular correspondents were given the opportunity to start contributing news stories and features again, in an attempt to provide wider geographical coverage. In response to readers’ longstanding concerns about the frequent late delivery of Fishing News, measures were quickly put in place to successfully address this situation.
Arrangements are now well advanced for the previously popular Fishing News Awards evening to be re-instated next year (May 26, 2016, at the Aberdeen Hilton Treetops Hotel), when Simon Rimmer will host the high-profile event.
In this closing issue of Fishing News 2015, I would like to acknowledge the contribution that Rachel Graham, Rob Terry and Tim Oliver have made to the new-look product since May, and also thank them for their personal support in that time.
Marine Protected Areas
In almost 30 years of being associated with Fishing News, from a personal perspective, few if any issues, including draconian quota cuts, the whitefish tie-up in 2001 and the subsequent large-scale decommissioning schemes, generated such a concerted response from the fishing industry as that which followed the Scottish Government’s proposed management measures for MPAs.
This 2015 review is intended to give a non-specific summary of the year and therefore it is not appropriate to go into the whys and wherefores of a contentious issue that continues to generate intense debate in Fishing News and beyond.
Equally though, the potential impact of the proposals should not, and cannot, be conveniently overlooked.
As with many jobs, timing is of key importance in my role. Sometimes one strikes lucky, and happens to be in the right place at the right time, while at other times events appear to conspire against all resemblance of efficiency.
The more desirable option prevailed in June, when, just a few days after the Scottish Government announced proposed management measures for MPAs on the west coast of Scotland, previously arranged travel plans meant that I was in Ullapool, Aultbea, Gairloch and Mallaig in quick succession.
It goes without saying that reactions to the proposals were immediately expressed by numerous fishermen landing prawns and scallops from the same traditional grounds that, if the proposals were to be implemented, they would no longer be allowed to fish.
From the first conversation, it was quite clear that highly-experienced and knowledgeable fishermen, many of whom had given up numerous hours to attend meetings to discuss MPAs and put forward their suggestions, felt that, without any indication, the goalposts had been moved at the last minute, to their considerable disadvantage. While more conscious and switched-on to the need for conservation measures, together with sustainable fishing practices, than any other ‘stakeholders’ in MPAs, fishermen were, and still are, extremely concerned that without any warning, the rug of continuity appeared to be pulled from under their feet at the very last minute.
Only by spending time in small, isolated and close-knit communities can one gain any insight into the negative impact the loss of key local fishing grounds would have in years to come. While the initial impact could be relatively small, there is little doubt that, over a period of time, it will gain momentum, as the forced sale of fishing boats leads to less income, fewer primary and secondary related jobs and ultimately the diminution of already small communities, which would in turn put further pressure on social amenities, including primary schools and emergency services.
Raising £2,464 by organising a charity evening in Newcastle, held to celebrate the lives of skipper James Noble and Filipino crewmen Michael Pulpul and Jonito Antonio who died following the Ocean Way tragedy, was a tremendous achievement by James’s fiancée Julie Myhill. In front of regional TV cameras, Julie presented equally-shared cheques to North Shields Fishermen’s Mission and Boulmer Volunteer Rescue Service, in recognition of the help and support they provided when the trawler was lost 120 miles off North Shields on 2 November 2014.
Driving the short distance from North Shields fish quay to Blyth beach yielded the opportunity to take some photographs of Steven Moss and Jeff Story netting close inshore on Border Queen.
Unsurprisingly, issues relating to bass, the looming demersal landing obligation and quotas in general, were hot topics at a well-attended NFFO AGM in York, which unfortunately UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice was unable to attend due to Parliamentary requirements in London.
Being well-accustomed to working with timber, it was extremely interesting to spend a few hours on the Isle of Ewe with 23-year-old shipwright Alasdair Grant, who had just completed his first new boat, the 23ft wooden-hulled Lawny.
After Aultbea and Gairloch, Mallaig was next up on the track plotter, where, on the first evening, the harbour was extremely busy with local and visiting prawn trawlers landing prawns from the traditional grounds. The following morning, supporters of the Mission Gala day were not deterred by heavy morning rain, as the community turned out in force in support of a charity they fully appreciate.
Maximising opportunities is a key part of any job, so, rather than returning to North East England on Sunday morning, the Cairngorms provided the mid-point when crossing Scotland from the west coast to the east for Peterhead. Later that night, the sleeping bag was opening out in the hospital cabin on Pathway, following a brief email conversation with the skipper, the previous Friday night when in Mallaig, exploring the possibility of a trip on the Sunday night.
A few hours later, Pathway started searching for maatjes herring 50 miles east of Start Point, Orkney. While a few small echoes occasionally showed up on Pathway’s sonar, they were viewed as not particularly encouraging. However, the bag was out-hauled and released some six hours later, by which time Pathway was 40 miles further east, at the Brae Field, where Lunar Bow, bound for dry-docking in Skagen, had marked fish. At the end of a fairly short tow, 150t of good-sized maatjes came aboard. A longer tow well into a beautiful evening yielded a further 250t of fish, after which Pathway was underway for Peterhead.
Without the availability of satellite broadband, this trip would not have been possible, as having been on the road for six days, an accumulation of news stories needed to be written and emailed on the day Fishing News went to print.
The new Bridlington vivier-crabber Genesis Enigma, built by MMS, was named at Hull later in the month, when calling into Whitby on the return journey brought the welcome bonus of several news photo and stories.
Whitby was again the venue the following week, where the new Shetland whitefish trawler Guardian Angell ran engine trials two days before successfully completing overnight fishing trials.
Having noticed that Benarkle II was one of several boats consigning squid to Peterhead market, Buckie was the destination at the beginning of the month, after skipper Mark Addison immediately responded positively when asked about the possibility of a trip. This started well, when mate/relief skipper Shaun Patterson was waiting at Portknockie harbour to run me off alongside the squid boats in his Orkney Day Angler 19 to get some different photographs, before the camera bag went onboard Benarkle II shortly after midnight in Buckie.
The next 36 hours provided a valuable insight into the trials and tribulations of inshore squid fishing, before the same water taxi came out again on Wednesday lunchtime to transfer me ashore in order to drive to Fraserburgh in time to be there as skipper Roub Morgan came in from his first day of fishing with his new fast crabber Makfort.
For time-related reasons, the resulting account of squid fishing in the Moray Firth will be featured in Fishing News next month, when the intensity of a fishery most skippers would prefer to avoid, particularly when fishing in less than eight fathoms of water on extremely hard bottom, will be apparent.
The following Monday morning saw the Yorkshire coble Courage pass under Whitby’s swing bridge at 05.30hrs, before the drift nets were shot away for the first time 45 minutes later. Once again, the unfathomable depths associated with salmon-netting were soon all too obvious, with skipper Martin Hopper and his crew having to rely on their lifetimes’ experience of the traditional fishery in order to turn around a day that, after the first six hours of fishing, looked like being irreversible. But, as can sometimes happen in this unpredictable fishery, it was turned round in a couple of slack-water shots that gave a small but welcome run of fish and therefore a viable tally of 18 fish from a 16- hour day.
A short detour to North Shields on the drive home the following morning took in her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland officially naming NIFCA’s new patrol vessel St Aidan.
The ever-present uncertainty in relation to where to be next, was highlighted by the fact that, 12 hours after answering either ‘Kilkeel’, ‘Macduff’ or ‘Whitby’ to the question ‘what are your plans for this week’, the final decision the next morning was ‘Lerwick – travel arrangements pending.’ After these were found to be available, 20 hours later ‘Dave’s jeep’ was left, as usual, at the Lerwick ferry terminal.
The newly-lengthened Whalsay midwater trawler Adenia, which the crew were busy rigging out to fish herring after returning home 36 hours earlier from being in Denmark and Poland for six months, was one of the reasons for the late decision to go to Shetland.
The second reason was Cunnisburgh skipper Alan Pottinger, who three months earlier had kindly offered a ‘run aff’ the next time I was in Shetland, when his new 8m catamaran Boy Frazer II was being widely admired by visitors to the Skipper Expo in Aberdeen.
The requirement to be at Macduff on Thursday morning for fishing trials of the new Western Isles scalloper Guiding Star threatened to prevent the offer being practical, but, as ever, the all-too-often-unseen willingness to help Fishing News made this possible, with Alan Pottinger immediately offering to tailor his day around the sailing schedule of the Lerwick- Aberdeen ferry.
With a steadily growing list of features to write, the next two weeks were mostly spent at the keyboard, before going to Bridlington where skipper Neil Robson was preparing to leave harbour for the first time with the new 14.95m crabber Genesis Enigma, where again co-operation to take photographs was immediately forthcoming, this time in the form of a friendly speedboat operator.
The first and 50th MSC-accredited Fish & Chip shops, Anstruther Fish Bar and Cromars in St Andrews, which by coincidence are only 10 miles apart in the East Neuk of Fife, received awards in an MSC-informal celebratory event that showcased the unbeatable taste qualities of freshly-caught seafood.
Whitby’s old lifeboat provided a suitable platform on the last Sunday afternoon of the month from which to photograph Exmouth skipper Dominic Welsh’s scalloper J-Sea E 333 heading in to land her first shot after being extensively upgraded by Parkol Marine Engineering.
Having initially had to say no, again due to lack of time, to the well-meant suggestion of going to Kilkeel before the new twin-rig trawler Steadfast N 315 was scheduled to start fishing at the beginning of the following week, and hearing a well-disguised but still detectable note of disappointment to the answer, a concerted effort was made to clear the decks of news stories before, very unusually, flight times were scrutinised on a Wednesday evening, before making a quick phone call.
10 hours later, a personal taxi driver for the next 22 hours, in the form of Lenny McLaughlin, was waiting at the arrivals’ gate in Belfast International Airport at 8am, having left Kilkeel nearly three hours beforehand in thick fog. The return journey was probably just as difficult, but the skipper was sure of his course, no doubt heartened by the prospect of a ‘Full Ulster breakfast’ at Annalong. As skipper Kenneth Patterson and his brothers, Raymond and Samuel, took time to provide a guided walk through Steadfast (built completely in-house by the family team), during which they explained the rationale behind the range of innovative features, it quickly became apparent that it would not have been possible to include Steadfast by trying to write a ‘remote’ feature.
Spending a few hours in Kilkeel also enabled a quick call to meet Gerry Smyth and his team of boatbuilders in their impressive new premises at the harbour.
Conditions for the return drive to Belfast Airport at 5am the following morning were even worse, with visibility down to less than 10m at times, but the watch did the job required and, although the flight back to Newcastle was understandably delayed, it was only an hour late, which still left enough time to clear another issue of Fishing News.
With Kilkeel ticked off the to-do list, Orkney was next on the radar. The usually unwelcome scheduling of international matches meant that, for once, Premiership games were not a consideration, so the car was loaded up the following morning for the 400-mile drive to Scrabster and the 7pm ferry to Stromness. An initially quiet drive, with time in hand, began to go pear-shaped just south of Perth, where closure of the slipway leading to the A9 meant sitting in traffic for 90 minutes and then trying to negotiate a way through a very congested city centre. When eventually back on the main road, awareness of time had become a constant presence, even when listening to commentary of Scotland and Samoa going head-to-head in an enthralling Rugby World Cup game at SJP. There was less than 30 minutes to spare when the boarding card was issued at Scrabster, before a soft drink and Orkney haddock and chips on MFV Hamnavoe had seldom been more welcome.
A tranquil Kirkwall harbour was the first port of call on the Sunday morning, before driving south across the Churchill barriers to St Margaret’s Hope and Burwick. Tingwall was the next waypoint, while heading west to Stromness to spend time on skipper Scott Norquoy’s new Buccaneer vivier-crabber Álsviør K 337.
The lobster hatchery at Lamb Holm, the state-of-the-art Orkney Fishermen’s Society’s crab processing factory at Stromness and Orkney Fisheries Association on Kirkwall Pier were frequented the following day before fortunately, as third stand-by vehicle, being able to board the ferry Varagen for the 90-minute crossing to Rapness on Westray, followed by the short drive to Pierowall, where there was just enough daylight remaining to quickly take a few photographs.
High levels of co-operation ensured that Tuesday was a particularly productive day, which started with a couple of hours with Geordie Costie on the 110-year-old South Isles yawl Bee K 70, bringing in single-ended parlour creels before the winter weather set in. Shortly after mid-day, Heddle Costie brought the Cyfish 33 Lady K into Rapness Pier to pick me up, before heading south east across Calf Sound, again towards Eday, to resume hauling the remaining five leaders of creels, including three in Westray Sound, before returning via Noup Head to Pierowall 30 minutes before the rest of the local crabbing fleet came ashore in fading light.
The second of two ferry crossings terminated at Scrabster on Wednesday evening, where the Wick seine-netters Boy Andrew and Opportune were landing to the market. Thursday morning started with a quick stop at Caithness Creels in Wick, before continuing to head south, although retrieval of a broken-down lorry on the notorious Berridale Braes delayed progress for almost two hours.
An invitation from the SFO to attend Iain MacSween’s retirement dinner in Edinburgh after 40 years’ of service provided the opportunity to renew acquaintances with many, while enjoying a very informal and pleasant evening.
Arriving home around breakfast time the next morning gave time to download and email Iain’s photographs to Rob Terry, before driving to Whitby for the launch of the Brixham vivier-crabber La Creole II later that day.
Fortunately, the timings worked well, and after La Creole was named just after 3pm, the photographs were quickly transferred from the camera to the laptop for selection, emailing and placement on the front cover and page three of the issue of Fishing News that went to print at 4pm. Tight, but workable, margins.
The unveiling of the Fishermen and Seafarer’s Memorial at Whitehills by HRH the Duke of Kent the following Monday afternoon was a particularly poignant occasion. So too was the dedication of a memorial plaque to the three men who lost their lives in the Ocean Way tragedy two weeks later at North Shields.
As the SFF Dinner was held in-between these two memorial services, it was particularly appropriate that a table raffle raised £1,200 for the Fishermen’s Mission.
Providing a clear career route, together with high levels of professional training for the next generation of fishermen, is of crucial importance to the future of the fishing industry, so it was pleasing to see trainees receiving their awards at the Whitby Fishing School’s Annual presentation day.
With the new Killybegs pair-trawler Carmarose SO 555 storm-bound in Lerwick harbour, along with her sisterships Colmcille and Westward Isle, the necessary travel arrangements were quickly put in place late on a Saturday night, on receipt of confirmation that the three vessels would remain in Shetland for the next 48 hours.
Shortly after walking through Lerwick ferry terminal and once again collecting ‘Dave’s jeep’, skipper John Waters and crew welcomed me aboard Carmarose with a mug of coffee. Two hours later, a 50m walk along the Morrison Dock brought the welcome bonus of meeting another two Killybegs pelagic skippers, Michael Callaghan and Garry McGing on the newly-lengthened pair-trawlers Pacelli and Olgarry.
Although a south-westerly wind was still gusting at up to 60 knots the following morning, the forecast continued to show a more favourable weather window, which led to the five Killybegs skippers making the decision to return to the grounds that afternoon.
A provisional request expressed to Lerwick harbourmaster Calum Grains the previous afternoon, about the potential availability of a pilot boat was immediately confirmed by port-control, as a result of which, the Knab was well-placed when Olgarry and Pacelli headed out.
This situation was repeated two hours later, when Carmrose, Colmcille and Westward Isle left their berths. Although getting four boats in line abreast is no easy feat, it was achieved in less than a . mile to yield a fairly unique photo.
Although all of Wednesday was spent on the laptop in the SFA meeting room, that night and the following day provided a range of opportunities to generate first-hand information for a Shetland feature.
This month started on a grey dreich morning at Whitby, where, having left harbour at 6.30am to run engine trials, the vivier-crabber La Creole II BM 177 was waiting close-by the bell-buoy at 8am for the arrival of the pilot boat and a reluctant dawn, before returning to harbour in time for the last bridge.
In terms of numbers, 2015 can be summarised as approximately 300,000 words written and 25,000 miles driven, while spending 75 nights on the road.
While this feature is intended to give a general practical overview of 2015 from a personal perspective, rather than cover most aspects of the work involved, it should be remembered that the year was again marked by tragedy and injury at sea, together with the passing of a number of highly-respected former fishermen, and that this Christmas will be a difficult time for their families.
Once again, the common element of the features compiled during the course of 2015 is the fact that they are only made possible by the willing help of skippers and their crews, without whom such first-hand experiences would not be possible for readers of Fishing News. At a time when all those who helped create these opportunities, together with ready access to various pilot boats, cherry pickers and other unusual locations for effective photographs, already have more than enough on their minds, such cooperation is much appreciated. Sincere thanks also to everyone who provided accommodation, meals and transport logistics.
Read more from Fishing News here.