Monday, 30 January 2017

True Grit and the Future of Fishing

The latest post from Mike Warner's EastCoastAvocet's blog focuses on the gritty side of fishing, the story of Lowestoft skipper, Jefferey Melton. As a way of life, fishing is diminishing - as are many other traditional occupations across the globe that require graft. While it seems there are there are plenty of adrenaline junkies' videos on YouTube from young people getting their kicks from taking risks there seem to be a diminishing number of them in this increasingly sanitised and safety-obsessed world willing to do so in order to earn a rewarding living. 

Mike's story is not intended to glorify but to tell it as it is - any work involving moving machine parts has associated risks - as does everyday commuting on public roads in a country with 26 million cars. In Newlyn, local bass fisherman, Steven 'Cod' Astley had a brush with septicemia that cost him both legs, amputated below the knee - 

he is determined to get back to sea once he gets used to his new pins.

Here, a few extracts from Mike's story highlights some of the key issues and events that have shaped current thinking:

"I’ve often spoken of the dangers that our fishermen face at sea (and on land) in their timeless pursuit of wild seafood. Indeed, with an unprecedented nine lives being tragically lost in the first half of 2016 alone (Seafish) and more life-changing accidents being recorded than the Alaskan Crab fishery, so graphically portrayed in the riveting documentary Deadliest Catch, the UK’s most dangerous peacetime occupation has certainly been living up to its reputation recently.

These alarming statistics have prompted organisations such as the RNLI ,The Fishermens Mission and Seafish to galvanise and redouble their efforts in encouraging fishermen to wear PFDs (personal flotation devices) and have been handing them out free, to those who qualify, as described in my 2015 post, reflecting the jointly organised and well-documented #SeaYouHomeSafe campaign. This laudable and essential practice of life preservation following a man overboard incident, has not just saved many lives already but sought closure for bereaved families where the deceased’s body has been successfully recovered.

But PFD’s don’t prevent accidents. Disaster can lurk behind every crashing lump of icy swell and every straining warp, but equally, as identified by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), many incidents recorded occur in relatively calm conditions, during the fairer weather months from June to September (Seafish).

Skipper Jefferey Melton aboard the Serene Dawn

Lowestoft skipper Jeffery Melton, was fishing singlehandedly aboard his 14m beamer, Serene Dawn (LT 7), in the Wash, in May 2015, a freak set of circumstances combined to render the 54 year old Jeffery, a well-known, hugely experienced and much admired East Anglian fisherman, suddenly and violently disabled in an horrific, split-second trauma, whilst towing for shrimps some miles off the North Norfolk coast.

“It was just another day” he smiles, “a routine I’ve practised a thousand times. I got down to the fish room, to look at the pump and began to lift the hatch, which was proving stubborn to move. As I gave it a shove, it freed and I stumbled forward.”

The ensuing seconds remain a blur to Jeffery, but in the following hazy and searingly shocking moments, he realised that where his booted and oilskinned left leg had been, was now a tangled, bleeding mass of shattered bone and torn flesh, below the knee.

“I thought to myself, Jeffery boy, what the hell ha’ you done?”

Read the full story here with pictures of a recent trip with Jefferey talking candidly to Mike Warner.