The Electric Pulse Fisher - Wednesday

Wednesday, January 16, North Sea, 30 kilometers outside of Scheveningen

I went to bed around one o'clock. Sleep would not set in, my head spinning due to the large amount of information I’m trying to process. Also the weather is still a bit rocky. So I lay awake until four o'clock at night, and then I sleep straight to a quarter to eight. Although no one obliges or asks me to go along with this crazy rhythm, I feel guilty again that I missed those hauls. I imagine the crew working alongside the conveyor belt, gutting fish, talking about me: 'Typical, another a green guy from Amsterdam, with his office job, no trace of callus on his hands, having a wonderful sleep while we’re working’.

As compensation I immediately go outside for the next haul. Like all previous times, I wait until Chris and Henk have emptied the net just above the box, and then walk to the conveyor belt and take my place. Chris selects the right sized fish from the assembly line, Henk guts fifty soles and plaices per minute. I manage to do ten. But that's more than nothing, I try to reassure myself. It is a reasonable, 'clean' box, 86 kilograms of sole and 106 kilos of plaice, very few undersized fish and bycatch like whiting, nor stones and other rubbish.

Back downstairs we go back to the coffee, and we watch the news again. Theresa May has undergone the expected defeat, her proposed deal with the EU has been voted down. Britain will leave the European Union in 72 days. These fishermen still do not know what the consequences will be for them, but they are not optimistic. They fish almost exclusively on the area between Stellendam and IJmuiden. But a large part of their colleagues fish on British waters. If that area is closed to Dutch (pulse) fishermen as a result of Brexit, it will become very busy in this area. Not to mention the wind farms and nature reserves that have already been planned out there.

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14:07 We have a few disappointing hauls in a row, the last one is 'only' 55 kilos of sole. Hans chooses to set course to the west, behind a befriended fisherman who just got 75 kilos there. He then heads to his cabin for a nap, Richard takes over.

19:00 Brown bread sandwiches with chicken satay. Fish is not eaten this week. 'Then the guys would be cleaning fish for half an hour before we eat. Meat or chicken is just a little bit more convenient.’ The last few boxes are disappointing, always between 40 and 60 kilograms of sole. I can tell Hans is making calculations in is head, adding up his total revenue this week. "I feel responsible for the income of everyone one on this ship. If we have hauls like this for the entire week, that means forty seperate times of pulling the net in and dealing with disappointment. That gets into my head a little bit at times.  My father has forty years of experience, he’s able to deal with disappointment a little bit better."

Another day passes almost unnoticed. Pull in the nets, sort, gut, nets out again. Lunch with potatoes, stew and pork, relax for a little bit and then out for the next haul. Pick up fish, sort, gut, net out again. Everyone has one and a half hours for themselves, to read or sleep. Next haul. Pick up fish, sort, gut, nets out again. Coffee and cake. Talk to Peter and Hans about representation of fishermen in the media, about quota, about environmental organisations opposing electric pulse fishing. Quick nap. Next haul. Pick up fish, sort, gut, nets out again.

The week is divided into these blocks of 30 and 90 minutes. Nobody - except me - sleeps longer than one and a half hours in a row. When they dock on Friday, they seem to effortlessly switch from this rhythm to the rhythm of the family. And then back on the boat again on Sunday night. Unbelievable, but one seems to able to get used to this.

While I am writing this in my cabin, I hear Richard sing along in the wheelhouse with André Hazes. 'Buona sera signorina, kiss me goodnight'. Everyone has their own way of filling in the gaps between hauls.

21:11 From the wheelhouse I watch while Hans brings the nets in again. "This is beginning to look a bit better.’, he says with relief, ‘I was beginning to get a little gloomy just now. It tends to happen sometimes. Then I can really use a little pep talk, from my mates, or my wife or my father.’ There’s some strong winds outside, big waves hitting the deck. Though I’m not without fear, I’ll go outside, to help, to immerse myself in the experience. We have a lot of flounder in this haul, but also a nice amount of sole. It takes some time until we’ve processed all the fish on the conveyor. The sole feels rough like a cat tongue, curling around my hand like a firm handshake. I can only have respect for a something that fights for its life like that.

Maarten Kuiper