Tuesday, 13 October 2009

My last sad farewell to the Olive Tree

Try as I might my uncle would not update the Olive Tree, and as the trawling was beginning to take over from all the other types of fishing like the seine net for white fish and ring netting for herring, the design of boats was changing fast.

Trawling for prawns was legalized in the Firth of Clyde and as it was becoming quite a profitable source of income most boat owners were converting to dual purpose winches, and fitting gallows on their quarters, to accommodate the trawl doors used to keep the net open during fishing.
The Olive Tree on the other hand did go trawling for prawns during lean times of the white fish, but the job was made harder and less efficient, by the lack of proper equipment.
This was fine in the early days around the mid sixties when the prawns were plentiful due to under fishing, the prawns being allowed to breed and multiply because there was no market for them in this country.

We used to be able to leave port about an hour before sunrise to shoot our gear close to our home port, and tow away in any direction we cared to, assured that after half an hour to an hour the net would come up with a cod end full of large prawns.
One of the areas where we towed along to, was Ardeer, just outside Saltcoats, a few miles up the coast from Ayr, and where the I.C.I. plant was, a chemical factory that dealt in ammunition and explosives.
Large prawns (crunchers as we called them, owing to their size) could be had up along that shore just outside the three mile limit where discarded cordite from the explosive factory was dumped by the I.C.I. ship that made trips from Irvine to dump it where it was thought to be safe, the salt water rendering it useless.

We would tow for an hour through the area scooping up our treasure of crunchers, but dragged up cordite that had lain on the sea bed for years.
As soon as the cod end was opened and the catch spilled onto the deck, you could smell the air filling with the stench of almond, or marzipan that the cordite extruded on contact with the air again, as it rumbled out onto the deck among the prawns.
We tailed most of the catch then, and as we were only at the job for a few weeks of the year, we never bothered with the rubber gloves the crews on the other boats had become accustomed to using, our hands like leather with working continuously in salt water at the seine net where you had a better feel of things without gloves.
The cordite was harmless in the condition it came aboard in, and as we picked through the prawns it was thrown back over the side, only to be picked up again by the next passing net.
Whether it did the prawns any harm or not I never found out, but the market grew for them with foreign buyers coming over to bid for them raising the prices to a very profitable height, so much so that boats were now being built with trawling in mind first and foremost.

Other forms of trawling became the most popular way to catch other fish, like herring and mackerel, fish that only took to the bottom when spawning, swimming mid water at various depths during their life cycle.
Even white fish that swam mid water had no hiding place because we had discovered ways of catching these species with the new inventions that was entering our occupation every year.

Trawlers had sailed from many ports around Britain to fish the distant waters up off Iceland, and reached fishing grounds that the smaller boats dare not venture, but now with every new improvement, fish that was once out of our reach had become available, and with no need to venture as far as Iceland.

Boats now had instruments in the wheelhouse that could pinpoint shoals of herring or mackerel at any depth within miles of the boat, and could shoot and trawl their nets at the required depth through the shoals, watch in another instrument their nets approaching the shoal, making sure it was at the right depth to go through it at its densest point,or even take all of it, and know almost to the box how much would come aboard, before the nets surfaced again.
Sometimes two boats tow one net between them, others use what they call pelagic gear (nets and trawl doors) that allows them to fish mid water for any kind of fish while using only one boat.
Purse seining for herring and mackerel took its toll on the stocks too with the nets being shot around the large shoal, closed at the bottom into a purse, hence the name of the technique, and captured everything within its miles of coverage.

The fishing took leaps and bounds in the early seventies, with growing demands for the catches, from as far away as Russia, with factory ships lying off the west coast of Scotland waiting for the herring and mackerel to fill their ships before setting out for home where another would take its place as soon as the anchor was lifted.

Other sources of shellfish like scallops and Queenie's were trawled for, species that used to be discarded before, were now being sought after, and being the hunters of the sea the fishermen were there to cash in on every progression.

Little did we know the damage our advances in technology would have on the fish stocks in years to come, the saying "there's plenty more fish in the sea" seemed to be true as day after day millions of pounds worth of fish of all kinds were being landed around our shores.
The distant trawling at Iceland had ceased as Iceland extended their limits, but it did not deter the fleet of newly designed vessels landing more and more fish.
Fish were being caught everywhere, we could even tow over rough ground that used to provide a hiding place, but some of the species that was being hunted now, was feeding for other species.
The food chain of the sea had never been taken into consideration, along with the decimation of the shoals, so unheeded, and unconcerned, without knowing it the slaughter continued.

I was as guilty as the next man,and with no improvements being made to the family boat, I left the Olive tree in 1975 for the last time, to join one of the new design of boat that was taking the place of the old.

I hope I have not bored you too much with the history, but I thought it necessary to explain better my moving on and leaving the Olive Tree behind.

The "Girl Margaret" was to be my next job, a new dual purpose built boat, whose home base was Campbeltown, across the Firth of Clyde from Ayr and to where I am heading for my next post, and hopefully take you with me.

Above is photos of how boats developed, over the years, not much bigger but an entirely better design.

The top picture shows a modern fishing vessel, which can be used for pair trawling or single boat trawling, the working decks completely covered, making the job a lot more safer.

The middle picture shows a trawler of earlier design, with the decks beginning to be covered.

The bottom picture is of a boat built in Nobles of Girvan. One of the first designs to accommodate trawling and ring net combined, others had trawling and Seine net combined. The same design but with different deck machinery.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. If you've ever mentioned I missed the post-- as a rule what was the average number of men in a crew? Until I started reading your blog I never gave any thought to what went into getting seafood to market. Nice to know some of the background.

  2. The Olive Tree is the name of our village Taverna,I always think of you as I pass it (or enter it), Donald.
    It is nice to learn how you moved forward with your fishing career.

  3. I think newer technologies, including fishing equipment and boats, indeed made the lives of fishermen easier. It is nice to try them, with hope that they will serve not only to minimize workload, but will do it with minimal environmental damage as well, if not none at all. I was disappointed with the cordites. They may be harmless when soaked in water, but it sure has chemical effects on the waters and what lives in it. They may (or may not) have an effect on the taste, smell, or physical appearance of fish and prawns, but they can leave traces and residues of harmful chemicals in them. Well, I just remembered those environment-friendly cars so maybe they can also create boats and shipping vessels alike. And I remember the mercury/ heavy metal content found in milkfish bellies. Am I being paranoid? LOL.

    It might really be hard to say goodbye to Olive Tree, you have many fishing moments together. You were with that boat until you became an expert in you profession. And that boat became your home at the sea. But still we have to go with the flow in order to catch up with the present and future.

    It doesn't matter if it is a small boat or a big boat, an old boat or a new one, fish or prawn to catch... you will always be a great fisherman. And a great author, too, but that's another story.

  4. I really like the way you write.

    I love the sea, Donald. I'd love to spend a year sailing around the globe...