Fishing in Rossport

20 Jul 2009 admin

This will be the first in a series of emails from my friend George who is in Rossport, County Mayo, Ireland, supporting the local community in their resistance to Shell’s plans to build a high pressure gas pipeline through their village.

Martin O’Donnell is Pat O’Donnell’s brother, whose boat was sunk by masked thugs in June.

Walking along the road from Poll a’tSomais putting up signs on the telegraph poles and talking to people in their gardens and on the road. Bridgette Mc’grath saw us on the road and came outside to pick out which sign she wanted outside her pub: ‘No Consent’. Further up Eamon brought us a ladder to help us nail ‘Shell Out’ to a pole outside his house.

On Tuesday I went out with Martin O’Donnell, the chief’s brother, in his fishing boat. St. John and I drove over to Porthurlain early in the morning where the fishing boats are moored. Martin was already out on his boat, ‘You’re late!’, when we arrived and picked us off the jetty, the motor giving off black smoke.

His two crew, Sandy and John leant on the rail. Sandy was my age, and had been fishing with Martin for five years. John was an older man in yellow oilskins who had been with Martin for twenty years. We motored out of the harbour rolling slightly with the swell. Just outside the harbour we stopped. John and Sandy brought down the lines from the reels above our heads. Each line had hooks and brightly coloured lures attached to it. They lowered the lines over the side, hand over hand. When they came back up each hook had a mackerel on it. The fish were pulled through rollers and dropped into buckets. Then the line was dropped again. They flapped about in the fish boxes drumming the sides, all shining in the morning sunshine. But Martin was dissatisfied, ‘not big enough’.

So we left to pull up nets. Sandy hooked the marker buoy and attached the end of the net to the winch. Martin went below and started the motor. The nets reeled in. Full of red crabs. John and Sandy pulled these out of the nets and snapped the claws off and tossed the shell over the side. Gulls gathered. They filled a box with crab claws. The crabs damage the nets explained Martin. They were hoping to catch monkfish and flatfish. We did catch some – Martin pulled a monkfish out of the nets and showed us the lines of sharp teeth. They have a lure they dangle in front of their mouths which they use to catch unsuspecting small fish. But mostly we caught crabs.

Each green net is a mile long and we pulled in five on tuesday. After the first net we motored along the coast, past stacks and arches in the cliff and the green fields above. We passed a basking shark- a large shadow beneath the surface. The next net was worse than the first. About halfway through the winch motor stalled. We looked over the side and hanging below us in the water was a grey ray with a wingspan as long as a dining table, still alive. Martin shook the nets and it swam free. We caught dogfish too and threw them back.

But the fishing was bad. ‘There’s a recession out here too’. The government subsidy is down, fuel prices are up, and the catch is down.

Martin thinks this is why most of the fishermen accepted Shell’s money, ‘They don’t think longterm. I want to preserve this way of life.’ There used to be 38 fishing boats at Porthurlain, now there are just 15. Just three years ago the government banned salmon fishing locally, a large source of income. If the refinery discharge pipe goes into the sea, Martin fears the market value of the fish will drop further.

I was in the wheel house talking with Martin when there was a call from the deck. Just alongside the boat was a pod of dolphins. They swam close, almost touching the sides and jumping through the wash from the motor. John and Sandy gutted the fish on deck. The gulls swooped on the scraps in the water. They filled around three boxes of fish and another of crab claws. ‘A lot of hard work for nothing’.

Back on shore these were packed in ice and sent to Dublin to the fish market. I made some recordings and then helped haul in the nets, some with little more than seaweed in. In the final net we pulled up a crayfish which martin gave to the solidarity camp. Like some giant red insect.

A lot of the fishermen have lost gear during the Solitaire’s work. He lost nets and others lost their pots. Martin turned to me while we were untangling one of the nets ‘I think we’ve lost the battle at sea, George’. He was clearly frustrated with the fishermen he feels sold out to Shell.

Speaking to Betty yesterday, she also felt that if the fishermen had worked together they could have stopped the Solitaire. But people here are preparing for the land based actions.

I kayaked around the headland into the other bay recently. The water there was as clear as it was the first time we paddled out in Broadhaven, you could see the bottom even in the deepest part.

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