Wednesday, 27 March 2013

All for a bag-full of bycatch

In the chill dark, an hour before dawn on Monday morning, I creep out of the house and go fishing.

I meet the fishermen on the dock and, with sleepy greetings, we step down onto the damp deck. Skipper MacGyver and David pull their ragged yellow oilskins from the tiny wheelhouse. I've come dressed in the same blue yachty wear that I use on OB, only that now, after a winter of fishing, the clothes are black-stained with cuttlefish ink, ringed with complex tide lines of salt and fish slime. They also harbour a permanent damp and stink. What were once reasonable quality foul weather clothes are now simply foul clothes.

The boat grumbles to life, shivering under foot, Flash fm blares a loud techno beat, MacGyver and David light up. We push off from the dock and chug out of the small port to meet the sea and the dawn with a pleasurable sense of expectation—maybe today the net will have some prime fish and no tiresome weed.

'Garbi o llevant?' MacGyver asks me. He wants me to take a shot at divining the direction of the current, garbi-west, llevant-east. After strong westerly winds on Sunday and a swell from the southwest today I say 'garbi' with confidence. MacGyver grunts and says 'llevant', David declares himself neutral. A deep red ellipse of sun appears briefly between the horizon and a thick bank of cloud. In the dull light we slow as we pass close to a fishing buoy all three peering into the depths to see how it lies. 'Llevant!' exclaims David, 'That's why MacGyver's the skipper.' I say, 'And I'm just the crazy volunteer deckhand.'

The net is set parallel to the coast which runs east west, and so we rumble on to our first buoy to haul the net in the same direction as the current. David grabs the buoy and hoicks it over the bulwark before passing the line round the roller drums on the bow. I pull the lever that sets the hydraulic machinery in motion and David and I look down at the buoy's anchor twirling up from below. We stop the rollers, tidy the line and secure the anchor then, rollers on, we wait for a first sight of the net. Being loaded with weed it brings a torrent of swearing from MacGyver and David. The quantity of brown twiggy clumps that come aboard with the first twenty metres portend a vast amount of work back at the dock untangling the weed from the mesh.

We are hoping for sole and cuttlefish—top sellers at the moment, though you don't want too much or the price falls. David goes back to the wheelhouse and holds the boat bow to the net while MacGyver hauls from amidships and I stand near the bow taking the swell with flexing knees, pulling trailing weed from the net and shouting back the names of fish as they come over the roller, only to be corrected by MacGyver. There aren't many of them, the weed in the net alerts the fish to its presence and they swim over it. Grey mullet, pandora, steenbras, bream, an octopus eating a grey mullet, a cuttlefish spurting a jet of ink in a wide arc as it comes over the roller and weed, tons of the stuff.

The net is long, too long to mention and though the fish are few and far between the eventual catch, though considered poor, is not entirely ruinous. As soon as the net is aboard MacGyver turns the boat for home and David and I set to the task of extracting fish, flinging them into buckets. With the swell hitting side on and the occasional whiff of exhaust, along with the pong of my clothes a slight dizziness comes. I lift my head and look forward, getting a light dousing of spray and thin rain. The tiredness behind my eyes mixed with the light headedness and the yawning hunger makes me feel like I'm returning from a party or maybe I'm just waking from a dream.

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