Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A boarding party was dispatched.

Trawl net with fishImage via Wikipedia

Fishery protection vessels were there to patrol the British waters to prevent foreign fishing boats entering what is now a twelve mile limit for them, and also to make sure our own boats kept to the rules, of which there were many.
Foreign fishing boats were allowed to work up to the three mile limit when I started the sea in 1964 but as their rules of minimum sizes for all species of fish and mesh sizes for nets did not comply with our laws, they were cleaning up our fishing grounds and denying access of the rich fishing grounds to our own fleet.
French, Spanish and Danish trawlers would invade our waters when the fishing was at its best and they would tow in formation in a large square to prevent our boats getting in among the shoals of hake that were prize catches for these countries.
The Scottish white fish fleet were seine netters which is much kinder to the seabed as the nets just skim the bottom, whereas trawling digs in and churns up the bottom disturbing the feeding and fish spawn, which in turn diminishes the fish stocks of the future.
That was another reason for extending the three mile limit as trawling was banned too, to give the stocks of fish a chance to build up.
After many conflicts between the fishermen a new twelve mile limit was brought out, which was far enough off shore to prevent them cleaning up our rich fishing stocks the way they did their own.
With the trawling banned and the foreign boats moved on it wasn't long before the local boats began to cash in on the big shoals around our coasts, but there were still rules and regulations for them to follow also.
You could fish inside the three mile limit if your boat was forty feet or under but anything over forty feet meant you had to stay outside that limit and as most of the fleet was over forty feet it gave the few smaller boats peace to fish for the sole, place and codling that were to be found in the shallower waters inshore.
Under certain weather conditions, when the wind was howling off the land for instance, and it was too rough off shore, or if there was good fishing inside the line in comparison to the deeper water, we would sometimes break the rules by shooting our gear in towards the land, and by the time we circled and got back to our dan we were just on the three mile line, so when we began towing we moved father off with every turn of the propeller.
On one such occasion, when the fishing was good inside and the sea was calm, four of the fleet, one under forty feet (Excelsior) and the other three (Terra Nova) ( Faithful) and us (Olive Tree) being over forty feet, decided to cash in on the good catches to be had. The skipper of the Excelsior did not mind us intruding on his patch, as he knew we all had to make a living, and on that day plenty fish was there to be had for all.
The only problem with shooting the gear inside and towing off was, if your gear came fast (stuck) on the bottom it meant you had to go back on it to clear it, which took you inside the limit again.
We knew the "Rhona" was in the area, but as stated in the last post it could be spotted in plenty of time, and as we were only inside the line when shooting our gear everything would be fine............unless of course we came fast on the bottom.
Although we knew the grounds well, we would shoot close to rocks or other obstacles,like wrecks and things, which were on our charts, but was where the biggest shoals would be, although sometimes we got too ambitious by going too near, and the tide would carry our gear onto these obstacles.
With the three boats towing peacefully just outside the limit and the Excelsior towing quite happily inside the line, the smoke of the Rhona was spotted heading our way, but undeterred we carried on knowing that although our nets were inside the limit, the boats were outside the line and the Rhona had no cause to bother us.
As luck would have it the Terra Nova became fast, but as we knew how slow the Rhona was he thought he had enough time to go back on his gear before the Rhona came close enough to nab him.
The fastener where his net was snagged was just under a mile inside, but if he got to it and retrieved his gear he would be fine, as you had to be caught with your nets in the water before the skipper of the Rhona could take any action against you. (with the limits.)
Alas the fastener proved more difficult than anticipated, and before he could free his gear, the Rhona was beside him, hailing him to stand by for boarding.
My uncle was relaying all the events to us as we worked among the fish, clearing them away before the next haul came on board, and although there was a great comradeship among the fishermen, there was also great rivalry too, so once our nets were safely back on board he decided to go over and take a closer look at what was going on, and have a little friendly smirk.
By this time the Terra Nova had her gear back on board and after being duly cautioned, and the said gear confiscated, the Rhona was in the process of casting off, quite chuffed that they had caught someone at last, but, not satisfied with one arrest for the day he set his sights on us, and shouted through the loudhailer "Olive Tree come alongside."
We may have been legal as we did not have our net in the water, but the net we did have on, had a cod end with under size mesh on it, and in the hold we had a spare net that had under size mesh too,so not to be out done my uncle started to steam away, off, to the three mile limit, to give us time to take action.
As we steamed away he told me to cut the cod end off and replace it with a legal one, which I did , hiding the illegal one in the engine room, and telling the crew to soak the legal one with the hose to make it look like it had been used. All the time the crew of the Rhona were watching our every move and the skipper kept hailing us to come alongside. As we reached the three mile limit, and in a last desperate measure my uncle told me to throw the dhan over the side to begin shooting our gear. With two coil of rope strung out from our stern and another eight to go the Rhona caught up with us and it's skipper demanded that we tie alongside him. Protesting that we were shooting our gear my uncle tried for one last time to avoid the inevitable, but to no avail the skipper of the Rhona was not to be outdone, and we soon found our self tied to them while a boarding party was dispatched to search for the offending cod end that they had witnessed me changing.
I had it too well hidden though, so they then asked if we had anymore nets aboard, to which my uncle replied "aye we have one in the hold," "do you just want the end of it up to measure?"
"Thats fine" replied the second in command of the Rhona, as my uncle opened the hatch and jumped down to pass up the cod end of the spare net that he thought was legal, but on reaching it discovered that it was the wings of the net that was legal and the cod end, illegal.
Not to be deterred again, he started throwing boxes and tyres aft, pretending he had to uncover the net, so he beckoned me down to carry out that job while he cut off the offending cod end.
I threw whatever came to hand, aft under the hatch, to let the officer think we were having trouble uncovering the net, but only succeeded in building a platform for him to step down and catch my uncle red handed, knife in hand, cutting the cod end off.
"Aye just pass it up like that" the officer said as he stepped back on deck, and of course as soon as his measure went in it was obvious that it was under size. He then handed the measure to my uncle and told HIM to try, just to prove that there was no doubt of it being illegal, and determined though he was to try and stretch the mesh to size, as he pushed the triangular measure in, he only succeeded in breaking the mesh. "Proof enough?" Asked the officer addressing my disgruntled uncle as he proceeded to caution him.
They maybe never found the cod end that I cut off and hid in the engine room, but that was the only piece of net we were left with once they confiscated the rest of our nets.
As we went aft to pass the nets aboard the Rhona we found the rest of our crew drinking tea, passed through the porthole to the galley of the Rhona by their cook who was busy chatting to our crew while we were being charged.
On passing the net up to the Rhona's deckhands they told us to cut off the heavy leaded rope and anything else, that made their life difficult to take it aboard, so by the time we were finished, all we had left on board was the foot rope of our net plus a few floats and the ten coil of ropes each side, we used to shoot our gear.
The nets, what was left of them were landed on Campbeltown pier the following day, and were to be left there until our case went to the magistrates court, where we were fined three hundred pounds, with the gear being returned for another fifty pounds.
The rest of our day had been lost as we had to go back to port for new nets, and even the good catch we had on board did not compensate for deserved punishment we received for breaking the law and being too nosy.
A bad day for us, but one of the few good days for the crew of the Rhona, who, frustrated most days by the elusive fishing fleet, thanks to her thick black smoke and old steam engines, finally got their revenge.
The fine of three hundred pounds was quite a hefty sum in these days but the fifty pounds to recover our nets was only a fraction of their cost, and under the circumstances, suited us fine. (If you will excuse the pun.)

COD END ( the tail of the net where the fish gathers to be emptied out, as seen in photo above)
FAST (when the net gets stuck on the bottom)
FASTENER ( the object that causes the net to stick)

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1 comment:

  1. And I thought you just sat quietly with your nets. Your life as a fisherman appeared to be far from quiet and full of adventure.