Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The shoals of cod.

The round Ailsa Craig on the Waverley Paddle S...Image via Wikipedia

There was still a cold winters chill in the breeze that blew off the sea on this March afternoon as I strolled along my usual haunt at Ayr beach, bringing back memories of the cod fishing around the Ailsa Craig at this time of year.

Although there was a breeze blowing the sea was calm, and had been for weeks now, something that did not seem to happen during the cod fishing when I was at sea, as I remember vividly getting tossed about every day with lumps of sea crashing down around us as we gutted cod continuously from daylight to dark, our hands freezing from the icy blast that whipped up the waves.

It was always after a cold winter that the cod were at their thickest, and as this was the coldest winter we have had for years, I was wishing I could get down to the fishing grounds to see for myself if there was any cod left to catch, as a few years ago, the European Union put a stop to fishing for them during the spawning season to try to replenish the stocks that had seemingly depleted over the years.

The cod came into the Firth of Clyde every year at this time to spawn bringing boats from all the fishing ports around the coast of Scotland to cash in on this bonanza.
For around three weeks of March the cod were at their thickest, small catches appearing just before the main flood, and then again, after they returned to the deeper water, making the season last for about six weeks in all.

Each night Ayr harbour was full of fishing boats waiting to squeeze into a space at the quay to unload their catches to the eager buyers who, although the cod was plentiful, would try to out bid each other to acquire the green gold that could make or break their year, also for the fishermen whose livelihood depended on the shoals, and getting the best prices possible for their fish.

It is hard to believe that these shoals do not come here anymore, because even though they took a slaughtering, year after year they would return in greater numbers to go through the process all over again, until one year the numbers started to decline.

The winters had been getting warmer, and we had started to catch the cod in the deeper waters where they returned to after spawning, but we always believed that there were plenty more fish in the sea, so we carried on regardless, after all we were there to make money and that was what we were doing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we began to catch cod with both male and female reproductive organs inside them, and I often wondered if that was natures way of making sure they survived.

The grounds around the Ailsa Craig where these cod used to shoal, have not been fished for some time now, and given the conditions of this winter I would love to be able to have a couple of experimental hauls just to see if the warmer winters was one of the reasons the cod started to dwindle, or if it was the damage caused by us that depleted the stocks so much so that there came a point of no return.

Having kept all my hunting instincts even though I left the fishing years ago, I still think there are plenty fish in the sea, and that the cod found another place to spawn during the warmer winters, and now that we have had a cold spell just at the right time, my instincts when I walked along Ayr beach yesterday with the chilly breeze hitting my face told me the cod were there.

Whether it was just the smell of the cold sea air bringing back memories of the good old days, or my instinct I'll never know, because I'll never get to prove it one way or the other thanks to the laws of the European Union, which in this case might be good or bad. Who knows?

The yearning for these days, and their memories will never leave me, and no matter how many walks I take on a cold March day, this year or in years to come, I will be down at the fishing grounds around the "Craig" catching large hauls of cod, and there is nothing the European Union can do about that.

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  1. That kind of lifestyle, out there on the water and the kind of rhythm to working and the chance for success or failure - it never really leaves you, does it? It must become part of your fabric, get into your body somehow, like the clockwork of the tides.

    Great post.

  2. You describe it very well Purestgreen, I was born and bred into the fishing, it was all I ever wanted to do, and it was with great reluctance when I had to leave.

  3. Sadly they are not in the Med either Donald. I remember watching them being hauled in on Harwich pier by the ton. I did catch a few in Felixstowe in 2005 before I emigrated, boy did I enjoy my supper.

  4. AH Glynis, you can't beat a bit of fresh fish straight from the sea.

  5. Heading to Cape "Cod" in another week or so. I will think of you, Donald!

  6. I look forward to your report Heather, and I am sure you will have the usual wonderful pictures to go along with it.

  7. The memories of a pirate man dance through the air...like the smell of fresh fish on the winds drizzling in from the ports....:)