News Satire People Food Other

At The Whims Of The Weather

By Pascal Geraghty on August 27, 2015 in Other

Photo: Pascal Geraghty

Photo: Pascal Geraghty

Traditional commercial fishing boats have a particular, and very peculiar, odour. It’s the first thing you notice stepping foot on deck. The unique melange of sea salt, diesel, tobacco, putrid bait, dried blood, fruit cake and earl grey topped off with lashings of mould, generations in the making and engrained in the timber hulls, offers a thick stew for the nostrils.

Even if you think you’re immune to the vice-grip of seasickness, this vaporous brew, in combination with a sloppy sea, has a knack of keeping your innards shuffling and your oesophagus on call. Sometimes it gets the better of you. The lid getting popped on a drum of rancid blackfish frames left marinating in their own juices for 18 months was enough to get me gagging over the gunwale.

I was lucky enough to spend an eye-opening two years amongst the NSW commercial line-fishing fleet in the name of fisheries research. I was welcomed aboard every manner of vessel between Coffs and Eden by every manner of fisherman, young and old, and observed all manner of fishing methods, from flicking metals for bonnies, to live-baiting for kingies, trapping lobsters, longlining for sharks and droplining seamounts for blue-eye.

To Joe Blow, commercial fishing is a secretive, guarded industry where arrest warrants are a prerequisite for deckhands, and skippers are rough, tough, lawless cowboys with a penchant for raping and pillaging the oceans. Truth be told, I did witness a few suss things on the outskirts of legality, possibly involving rifles and charismatic megafauna (although a rocking boat doesn’t lend itself to deadeye-dick marksmanship).

Nonetheless, my experience debunks the myth that commercial fishermen are all short-sighted ruffians hell-bent on decimating the ecosystem en route to making a quick buck. The fishermen I met welcomed me aboard their pride and joys, into their homes, amongst their families and into their lives. None were at risk of martyrdom, but all were generous, warm-hearted characters with fishing proudly in their DNA, old-school values and stories for years. They lived harsh, humble, uncomplicated lives utterly surrendered to the whims of the weather, their livelihoods at the mercy of the wind, waves and currents. Their skills at sea were something to behold. They also knew restraint, being as passionate about sustainable fish stocks as the next man.

I came to realise that fresh fish represent the fruit of backbreaking toil carried out in the world’s most dangerous office by skilled men and women who know not the meaning of laziness and who have only ever heard of a sleep-in.

Of course, there are idiots bobbing around out there. Selfish bloody idiots with no respect for the environment, no thought for the future, just dollar signs in their eyes. Unfortunately commercial fishing just suffers the same old problem as every other facet of society – a few rotten eggs ruining it for everyone else. It’s these individuals making a bad name for the rest, tarnishing the image of a proud, historic industry.