2nd December 2001
From the fog came the Canadian warship ‘Ville de Quebec’ early this morning. As she did so the VHF radio crackled into life.
‘Santa Maria, Santa Maria, this is Canadian Fisheries Inspector onboard the HMCS Ville de Quebec, come in, over.’
Miguel picked up the radio and replied. He already had the pilot ladder on deck ready to hang over the side for the Inspectors to climb aboard, and on the bridge his paperwork had been carefully prepared and was waiting in a neat folder. Bazil Fawlty had some fresh coffee on the go, and in the galley the cook was preparing some snacks to send up to the bridge to sweeten the Inspectors. This wasn’t the ‘out of the blue’ inspection the Ville de Quebec may have hoped for.
Inspectors Ron & Elaine came aboard. Elaine was the first female I’ve seen since leaving land, and although her heavily insulated immersion suit wasn’t exactly figure hugging, it was nice to see a female rather than a hairy fisherman.
The odd and frustrating thing is that I am not allowed to give the Canadian Inspectors any information. We were warned about this very situation during our briefing in London, and told that under no circumstances were we to pass any information about the fishing activities of the vessel, to anybody except EU inspectors, we weren’t allowed to give over the data to the Canadians, and they weren’t allowed to ask for it. The data and my findings would have to wait until we reached shore. I find the whole situation ridiculous and odd – surely it doesn’t matter who conducts the inspection, we are all working to prevent illegal fishing and to ensure fish stocks are fished sustainably. As I’ve already said though, even if I could have told them about the misreported catch, there would be no way of verifying it and it would be the word of a new and inexperienced observer against the Captain. There was nothing I could do about it, today at least.
Miguel knew that I couldn’t give them any information and so looked relaxed when I offered to accompany the Inspectors to the holds. The holds are accessed from a hatch in the factory floor, where a ladder descends into the bowels of the ship. The holds are cavernous open spaces, which are super-chilled to -18. I climbed down the frozen ladder first, and instantly felt ice form in my nostrils. A few dim bulbs gave off the deceiving impression of warmth. Ron & Elaine followed behind and we looked at the boxes of fish in the hold. They made some measurements to calculate the amount of fish there was in there. It was quite depressing to see that the holds were still relatively empty, and trying to imagine how long it would take to fill them was a sobering thought.
Afterwards we went on deck into the comparative warmth of a North Atlantic winter to measure the net. It was nice to chat to Ron & Elaine as native English speakers, it was a relief to be able to speak naturally and not enunciate my words to be understood. Even so, they knew they couldn’t ask me what they really wanted to know, and I knew I couldn’t tell them, so even with them an elephant stood between us on the trawl deck.
It’s a difficult and lonely position to be in; not having an ally for two thousand miles.
Predictably the Inspectors found nothing untoward and left happy, but not as happy as Miguel.
There was some good news this evening though, Miguel tells me that we are meeting with a ship tomorrow which is about to return to Portugal and should arrive before Christmas. That means I have an opportunity to send a letter home. It’s late now as I write this, but I am really pleased to be able to send a letter and I’ve included a copy of this diary and some of the photos I’ve taken, all burned onto a CD. So I hope you get this Mum & Dad, and Happy Christmas!