Mackerel fishing!

Just a short post this time as I am off to Brazil tomorrow for a month!

Work has been picking up a lot recently – I’ve been busy getting my modeling work underway and writing a lot of R scripts! I did however manage to get out of the office the other day for another fishing trip, which was really nice given I haven’t been out on a boat since March. I was out this time with another fisherman who is part of the Sole of Discretion project I’ve been involved with, which is a new, ethical fish business, structured as a Community Interest Company and owned by fishers. The money made is put back into the fishing community, mostly within Plymouth where SOD is based. The fish is then delivered to restaurants or with Riverford vegetable boxes, or you can even buy it straight from the dock in Plymouth!

I think it’s a great initiative, and it’s been lovely to see it grow over the past few months and get off the ground. The best part for me however has been having the opportunity to go out on some of the boats to see how the fish is caught, handled and processed. I’ve been collecting some information on aspects of bycatch, fish welfare and wider environmental impact and we are hoping this work can be used to help support the work of SOD as well as inform some of our research back at Exeter.

On Friday I went out with Aaron on his boat ‘Happy Days’ for a spot of mackerel fishing. We had a reasonable start time and were out for most of the day off Plymouth and Whitsand Bay, handlining on his 10m boat. The gear was set up on the boat with two automated lines set with hooks, which could be set to drop to depths which we specified. How could we tell where the fish were? Interestingly, I was surprised to find just how much Aaron is reliant on watching for birds and seeing if they were diving into the water or not. We were constantly on the lookout for them, and as soon as we saw a mob of them we would speed off to try and catch the fish they were after! We could also check the fish were there by looking at the ‘fish finder’ screen, which uses sonar to pick up any signs of fish below the surface.

Once we’d decided where to fish, it was just a case of letting the gear down and then reeling it back in (this was automated which made life a little easier!). You could feel the fish on the line when it was in the water and that helped give an indication of when to bring the line up. Aaron and his crew taught me how to feel for the different species on the line – mackerel are quite bouncy and flitter around in the water. We got a few whiting on some of the hooks too due to them being at similar depths to the mackerel. We weren’t really after them, but it was quite an easy case of picking them off and letting them swim away.

By the end of the day we’d managed to get quite few boxes of mackerel which Aaron was happy with, along with a few whiting as well. Overall, I had a great time out and it was really lovely to witness such a low impact fishing trip. Handlining really does seem to be extremely sustainable and it was great to see how ‘clean’ the gear was (i.e. very little bycatch and impact on the environment). And, possibly the best bit of the whole trip, we saw a pilot whale!!! I was very excited.

Thank you Aaron for letting me aboard!

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