University of Aberdeen Takes you to the main page for this section
Elphinstone Kist   Work, Folk-History

From an Interview on Fishing with Celia Craig     by: Donaldson, Alan

Interview with Mr Alan Donaldson : Saturday 16 June

The Interview with Mr Alan Donaldson was conducted in Gourdon/Gurden Scots, being the mother tongue of both interviewee and interviewer. (1)

Early life (born 1955) and connections with fishing ; later experiences of different types of fishing as Gourdon fisherman and Skipper ; changes in the methods and catches of inshore fishing from the 1960s to the present, sadly testifying to the decline of the industry. (2)

Alan’s life story traces the changes, moving from his first berth to purchasing different boats, skippering himself, fishing for traditional and later new, unusual catches

1. Early fascination with the sea and the way of life of the fisherman

Grouwin up in the 60s – it wis great. Gurden wis a great place. I dah ken – I wis jist daft aboot the sea : it wis aa that wis in yer mind : it wis aa that wis in mi heid. Wi wis nevir awa fae the herber fin wi wis bairns. That wis it - the hale day We tried ti help. Wi tied a boat’s rope – ye thocht ye wis king. If ye helped a boat land its shot o fish fin ye wis getting a bittie aulder, ye thocht it wis great. Somebody showed ye it and that wis it – ye kid manage a roond turn and twa half hitches and that tied a boat up.
I wis in twice a day – dookin. Aabody did. We wis a lot happier. I really div believe that. Aabody wis the same.

Alan’s paternal grandfather was of farming stock originally, his grandmother from Crawton, possibly of fishing stock (3). His grandmother sheeled and baited lines for his deddie (4) once he started going to the sea : his mother baited for his father (5) and later for Alan himself.



2. Early trips out to sea – to the lines, aged seven or eight, spewing, and later to the seine net, aged eleven - twelve

The first time I went wi mi father. He wis eh gaen crew wi Govie (6) - in the Reaper – the auld een, the widen een, .an it wis the tattie holidays (7) – I wisna auld enough - I didna get ti ging ti the tatties – I dah ken foo auld I’d a been. I nevir got ti ging ti the tatties onywye . I didna hae a big brother ti ging ti the tatties wi or nothing, so I got ti ging ti the lines wi them. And it wis Govie, mi father, Willie Dorrit and Onzie Mill – that wis the fower o them. (8) The tattie holidays and they were gaen ti the Shald Water ti the lines (9) – that wis the first time I can mind o gaen oot – aye for a fishin trip and I spewed. Aye, I spewed but I mind mi father said it wisna a very bonnie day. (10) I canna actually mind muckle aboot it but I mind o spewin and I mind Onzie wis kiddin me on and him and Willie Dorrit said, “Well, far iver spews his ti clean it up”. I thocht, “Oh dearie me” but I didna like. Ken, they cleaned it up. They wir tormentin me.. So I wis oot wi thaim.

Mi father got a berth wi Peter and Stephen Morrison in the little Quest. So I wis oot wi thaim and this this time they were at the seine net, in the summer time and me and mi brither – I’d been 11 or 12 gin this time – and me and mi brither went twa three times wi thaim, twa summers ti the seine net and that wis the next time I mindit o gaen. No, no! I’ve mixed up the time. I went wi the Reaper ti the seine net and aa afore mi father (got a berth with the Quest) - that wis atween that – that wis the seine net and aa. It wis a different wye a fishin. That wis the first time I’d been at that. (11)



3. Changes in fishing practices and methods : (1) Seasonal fishing : 1960s – 70s – part 80s

In thae days, ye see, that’s anither thing, they lads, eh, at that time, aathing wis seasonal. It’s nae like noo. It’s creels in twelve months a year. Aathing wis seasonal. Ye put yer creels in roond aboot Easter time and gin the middle o September, mebbe the end o September aa the creels wis oot. Aabody wis at the lines. Partans and aathing wis aa rested aa winter and then the bigger boats that didna ging ti the lines, they gaed ti the seine net. They jist gaed ti that through the summer.

Anither wye ti look at it toh wis like, eh, like eh – Robert Ceretti, aye his grandfather, Robbie Daisy and them and Ake Barr, (12) they, Robbie aye yohsed ti say to Googie (13) there wisna mebbe that mony gaen ti the partans in the summer but it wid gie yer Granny a rest – fae sheelin and baitin. (14) It wisna jist fir that but it did gie the wifies a rest because the wifies hid the short end o the stick at the lines. There’s nae twa doots aboot that. And I think Govie wid say that and he wis a great line man. (15)

Having enjoyed his Gourdon Primary School days, Alan found the formality of Secondary School at Mackie Academy in Stonehaven uncongenial. Although he grants it would have been useful to have learnt to speak French, for example, for holidays, and wishes he had “stuck in “ more, Alan was still obsessed with the sea as a teenager, taking the small boat (Lisa May) he shared with his brother to sea in the summer holidays.



4. School holiday fishing with the Lisa May (1970)

Bit I wis still set on gaen ti the sea so – eh – I got twa- three pound left ti mi and mi father said we’ll buy a little boat and you and yer brither can ging pairt time ti the creels. Noo I dah ken if this wis ti try and pit me aff or fit. I dah ken. Mi mither actually – I heard rumours aboot that, she wis tryin ti pit mi aff gaen ti the sea bit it jist made mi worse. It jist made mi worse.

So wi hid aboot twenty creels – me and mi brither and wi yohsed ti ging and haul them afore wi went ti the school – in the summer time – jist the summer – and that jist made mi worse. I yohsed ti mysteriously be ten meenits late and aathing – tyin up the boat and here’s the bus (16) – aye, I wis as bad as that like. He wis still at the Primary fin wi first got it, mi brither – he’d been last year at the Primary bit he nevir took nae notion. I couldna get him oot o his bed or nothing. He did like gaen ti the sea bit he wisna a lad fir getting up in the morning. Bit it didna bather me.



5. Catching his first lobster – on Cup Final Day

Celia : And you were obviously in charge fin ye were gaen wi yer brither – Aye – so you were dohin the steerin and aa the rest o’t. And ye jist took ti that like a duck ti water. Naebody said ti ye- this is how ye do it or this is far ti fish? ….fir yer creels.

Alan : No, naebody telt us that aboot the creels. Jist learnt it as ye went alang like. Wi didna catch a lot like bit eh it wis jist pocket money bit I mind the first labster wi got wi the creels wis the Cup Final Day – Aiberdeen won the Cup. Noo the wye I ken that wis because there wis a bus gaen fae here – wi wis ootside at that time. Well, they opened the pub. The Herber Bar (17) wis open. The bus wis there at sevin or aicht in the morning. And we’d come in wi a labster and we met Bill Mellis - and he wis a year aulder than me so he’d been fifteen past and I’d been fourteen and he wis gawa on the bus ti ging ti the fitba and wi telt him we’d gotten a labster and he said, “That’s yer first labster” and aabody thocht it wis grait – we’d gotten wir first labster. The bus wis gawa – that’s the wye I mind o that.

Although many of Alan’s school mates liked going to the se as boys, only Alan chose the sea as a living though several of them have peripheral connections with the sea in their jobs – one as Harbour Master, one as a Fisheries Officer, one as a fish van salesman.



6. First Berth – 1971 – line fishing in winter, creels in the summer (18)

At fifteen, Alan left school and on his father’s advice went to request a berth from Alex Craig, Skipper of the Trustful

Ging alang ti see Alex Craig, he says. Ye’ll get a berth wi Alex Craig. And I thocht – oh ya - I plucked up enough courage ti ging and see him cause thae lads – ye must mind thae lads- maist o the skippers o thae days – thae lads had aa been through the War. Ken that seems like a century auld noo bit maist o the skippers had been through the War, Govie, yer father, Bri-mie, Welsh, Googie’s grandfather, Bobby Stewartie – they’d aa near been through the War and that’s - ken that’s sounds like a century ago and they werena auld lads but we thocht they were auld lads bit they werena. This is 1970. They werena auld – mean – that’s wis only 25 years eftir the War. Well, it’s 25 years i the noo since the Falklands. We looked up ti them onywye ony o the skippers, pit it that wye. Onywye I hid ti ging alang ti see him onywye. (19) And I said – “Mi father said, eh, I wid get ti the sea wi ye, like” And I‘ll tell ye fit he said yet. Tell me fit he said. Ken fit he said. He said, “Ye’ll get nae bather. Ye’ll be as welcome as the flowers in May” That’s fit he said. ( Oh, that’s aye fit he said. Oh, I ken. That wis a very favourite phrase o mi father’s. Oh, that’s good. At this point both interviewer and interviewee become a little emotional) That’s fit he said to mi, like – Welcome as the flowers in May. I’m glad that ye remember that. (20) So, this wis afore Christmas – so I went for a day afore Christmas and then left the school at Christmas – so that wis Christmas and first day at the sea wis the 3rd o January. Caa mind if it wis a Monday or a Tuesday. Couldna tell ye. Caa mind bit it wis the 3rd o January 1971. We went the three o wi till March come and Robert Wairden left ti ging ti the salmon fishing and the there wis jist me and yer father. (21) Went ti the creels that summer. That wis the start o mi then. And we went ti the creels and then went ti the lines the following winter. And wi got on braw actually.



7. A new venture – shared purchase of a boat with partner, Douglas Welsh : pay comparisons

Aboot 1973 – and fish merchant, Douglas Welsh, he come ti me and said, “Fit aboot buyin a boat – fancy buyin a boat? “ And I thocht – I’ve only been gaen twa year – I wis a bittie duvious – cause I didna think I’d been gaen lang enough bit I’d learnt – steered up lines and aathing, yer father – ken I learn up the wye ti steer up lines and aathing, and I read the compass and aathing, fae yer father – and I thocht I wis getting on braw. Well, I wis getting on braw wi yer father and he (Welsh) said there’s a boat for sale at Johnner – Leon Dundas – The Liberty. (22) It wis £450 he wis needin for it. So I had a £100 . So he says – pit a £100 intil it. And I’d saved a £100 because – well, the money side o things – we nevir made a fortune but eh, compared ti fit they were getting ashore in thae days, it wis good money like. Ken it wis mi first paiy – I aye I aye mind mi first paiy toh wis £18, 18 shillings and that wis a half daihl. (23) An, David Davidson hid started serving his time at Arbuthnott …… - for a fiver (£5). (24) And that wis a half share that I hid - £18, 18 bob but decimalisation jist come in that year. It wis £18, 18 bob and I kept the 18 bob and jist gaed the rest ti mi mither. (25) I hid a £100 saved up onywye so he says, “Fit di ye think.?” So I says, “Well, I wid aisy gie it a try bit I’m a bittie duvious ken aboot lavin Ehlick like – ken I didna want ti doh that.



8. Gurden – Traditional Cautionary Advice 1

In spite of cautionary advice as to the inadvisability of buying a boat where the partner remains ashore and in spite of his concerns about leaving his first Skipper in the lurch, Alan took the plunge, pointing out that today many scallop boats have skippers who have no shares at all, while conceding that “in Gurden it didna seem ti be the done thing. Hid ti be yer brother or yer father, or somebody that wis gaen tit he sea or it’ll never work”. (26)



9. Gurden – Traditional Cautionary Advice 2

Following the purchase of the Liberty from its Johnshaven owner, Alan applied for a grant to help finance the required creels for crab fishing made for him by retired fishermen and friends/relatives of his partner, Welsh, and new crew member, Ali Mackie. The grant system was “anathema” in Gurden:
We got a grant but that seemed ti be an affa thing in Gurden. Ken ye hid ti belang aathing or it wis nae yohse. Govie wis a great advocate of the grant. Eftir the War aabody got grants ti build new boats and that bit they didna doh it here except for Govie (27) Eftir the War there wis an affa boats built – at Arbroath and aa them bit Gurden jist bocht the eens they were throwin oot, mair or less. (28)



10. Fishing practices and methods : (2) Fleets of creels – 1960s – 2007 : (3) Innovative line fishing – 1960s – 70s

Celia : Fin ye were gaen ti the sea wi m father, how mony creels wid ye hiv worked?

Alan : We hid – I mind yet. We hid 125 for two men. That wis aa there wis. And nooadays they’re workin aboot 600.

Celia : Cause a fleet’s 20, isn’t it?

Alan : Yer father hid 25. 25 in a fleet – did he? 25 – instead o haein six fleets o twenty, gie ye 120, he hid five fleets o twenty five. Oh, is that how he did it? And he thocht it wis better cause eence ye’d taen a hide o a fleet a creels, wi anither five on the end – it didna maak – it saved ye gaen fir anither fleet, if ye ken fit I mean He’d only five fleets ti pick up whereas if ye’d six o 120, ye’d six – 120 – ye’d six.

Celia : Aye – that’s right – five fleets –is that right? I didna realise that cause I aye hid it fixed in my mind that it wis fleets o twenty.

Alan : He wis the only een that hid that – like – 25 aye.

Celia : Cause ye needed 120 fathom o rope or something.

Alan : That wis jist his – his preference,like. It wis the same wi him wi the lines. A haddock line’s set up maybe say twa fit or three fit ivery hook bit maist o the haddocks wis caught at the Shald Water an yer father - he didna ging ti the Shald Water. It wis maistly codlins wi caught inbye and a line wis 1200 hooks. So fit yer father did wis, ti save the wifies a bit o work, he cut it doon ti 900 hooks. Bit he cut it oot inatween, so ye’d a langer line ti haul bit ye’d three hundred hooks less. It wis less work for the wifies but ye wis still coverin the grund. That wis his theory – for catchin codlins like cause a haddock seemed ti bunch up a lot mair. Hooks wis spaced like that. Yer father cut oot the middle and they were spaced like that. So ye’d 900 hooks bit ye’d langer line than the 1200 though ye didna hae the hooks and he said it covered mair grund. Well, that wis his theory. (29)



11. From line fishing to trawling

By 1977 after creel and line fishing, and finding that it was becoming impossible to get lines baited, Alan and Douglas Welsh decided to buy a bigger boat to try trawling. Line fishing was tailing off at this time.

Definitely it wis. Wimmen jist widna doh it. So we bocht this boat ti ging ti the trawl wi and eh – it wis terrible pohr. It wis a pretty bad time for the fishing at that time aa ower. We struggled for a hale year, we struggled wi it. Wi made a livin but nothing spectacular. And then – I got marriet in 1978 – so that wis us – she wisna gaen ti – well, she didna ken fit baitin wis. We hid that boat till 1979 and then – she wis a pretty auld boat – so we’d see if we could get a bittie mair modern a boat – so we trawled 1980 and bocht a boat …. – eh it wis jist a wee bittie langer – same engine bit it wis twice the boat and we hid that for three year. We did weel wi that. The first year we hid a struggle bit eftir that we did weel. At that time we hid good years wi that boat like. She wis 45 fit, 45 fit. And we poot a bigger engine intil’ t and that jist made aa the difference like. Put anither 60 horse power intil’t - half the horse power again – 110 ti 172 and, well, that made an affa difference.

Although a few Gourdon boats had been trawling, Alan and his crew were among the first to try this method, having seen how it was operated on other boats.



12. Fishing practices and methods : (4) Differences between seine net fishing and trawling

Well, the trawl wis a claymore : the seine net wis a rapier. Is that fit ye caa them? That wis a rapier - the trawl wis a claymore – jist bang – charge

Celia : So the seine net is much mair sophisticated, precise? Mair refined

Celia ; Right. Is there a difference in the depths o the water?

Alan : No. no. Ye could trawl richt up ti the beach but ye couldna seine net on the hard grund, the rocky grund and that wis – jist because the net wid be ripped? – ripped, aye but the trawl poot on bobbins and then fit they caa’d rock hoppers – rubber discs and kept the net aff the buddom. (30) Ye still tore the net a lot but …… we catched codlins on the hard grund but if it didna come on to saft grund the seine net wis nae yohse. But we could ging on the saft grund an aa, ye see. Trawl jist went aawye.

Celia : So the trawl is actually scoopin up … everything

Alan : Aye, well, in a wye – no, it wisna as bad as that. Single trawlin wisna bad : pair trawlin wis a different thing. The net wis aboot fower times the size. Far ye jist took a certain amount o fish wi a single trawl, wi pair trawlin ye took them aa like. Ony size. Ye took a lot mair sma fish than iver ye did at the single trawl.

Celia : Bit neen o the Gurden boats did pair trawlin?

Alan : Well, we went three- fower weeks – that wis it.



13. Losing the boat - buying a new boat – commissioning the building of a new boat

Sadly in bad weather, having wound up the propeller in the net, Alan lost the boat though no injuries were sustained or lives lost. Having been encouraged by an older fisherman to start again, Alan and Douglas Welsh bought a bigger boat, the Hazel with a bigger engine from the Broch (Fraserburgh) in 1985 and then went ahead with a major enterprise – getting a boat built, with the help of a grant. The boat building was started in 1987 and the Emma Kathleen (named for Alan’s two daughters) was launched in 1988. Alan had 27 shares, his partner 64.

So we got that in 1988 and gid ti the trawl and we did weel. Things wis aright. There wis fower o wi aboard the boat fir a start and then things started ti ging a bittie teucher and we hid ti cut doon ti three.



14. Fishing practices and methods : (5) Equipment 1960s – 2007

Fin I started wi yer father, it wis his compass and his watch. That wis the lot. He didna even a hae a soonder. His compass and his watch – the twa things - …. that’s aa they hid then.

Celia : The tide tables.

Alan : Aye, aabody hid them – the Smiths (31) – Ae day we wisna at the sea, he went ti Montrose, I aye mind - ti the broo it wis (32) and he went and bocht een o thae – they were aboot £2 –I mind o that – Smith’s pocket watch. Aabody hid them. That wis that. Bit compared wi fit wi hiv noo, it’s jist unbelievable.

Celia : Ye hiv a much mair sophisticated approach noo.

Alan : Gin 1987 the radar wis far, far ahead o fit the radars wis fin we started trawlin. Ye yohsed ti hae to look doon in a hood bit then ye could jist look like lookin at a TV gin this time. Ken before that ye yohsed ti hae to look doon a hood but nae noo. Ye yoohsed ti hae a chart toh – it wis like graph paper. Caa’d it the graphs, wi numbers and ye gaed on that. Then we got this video een – it wis like a computer and like it wis aa coloured.

Celia ; And di ye yoohse that – constantly?

Alan : I’ve still got it like. I still yohse it.

Celia : Tell me how that works then, Alan. Ye maak a decision that ye’re gaen ti fish in a certain place, di ye ,then pull oot the relevant chart?

Alan : According ti – bi this time it wis …. discs ye put in. I started on the paper chart - then the video plotter.

Celia : And how di ye ken how ti – how di ye steer? Ye still hiv a compass?

Alan : Oh aye - ….. still …. wi a compass.

Celia : It aa sounds quite tricky.

Alan : Ah – no, it’s nae really. Aathing is the first time ye yohse it bit this wis a great thing, this video plotter. We’d gotten this tapes. It’s jist experience.

Celia : Is it like sat. nav. ?

Alan : We’ve got sat.nav. Aye, we’ve got a GDS.

Celia : Di ye use aa these systems? Di ye think – oh I’ll jist need ti use this ..?

Alan : No – the GDS drives a square on the plotter and that’s you. It moves as ye’re movin.

Celia : Ye hiv a much mair sophisticated approach noo obviously.

Alan : Aye, aye. It’s getting mair sophisticated aa the time.

Celia : Are you happy ti accept aa they different things as they come alang? Di ye quite like ti keep up wi the trends?

Alan : Aye, well, I wis thinkin aboot gettin in the latest thing, thinking aboot it.

Celia : Which is?

Alan : Which is a thing that maps the buddom o the sea, in 3D and it comes up on a flat screen, 3D bit it’s jist a case o if ye dinna get it, yer gaen a be left ahint bit the thing aboot it wis, they’re getting too good noo. It’s jist aboot got it ti capacity, well, I think. They’ve jist aboot got it ti capacity – aathing like.

Celia : And that’s really gaen ti maak sure that the demise o fishin is total.

Alan : It’s the same auld story. If ye dinna doh this, yer gaen ti be left ahint. I mean, I spoke ti a lad yesterday that hid this machine and he’s hin it fir mair than a year and his scallop fishin his went up – he’s catched half as much again, he reckons.



15. Scallop fishing : prawn fishing – new, non-traditional catches

By 1993 it wis absolutely hopeless - fishing wis hopeless – the price o diesel hid went up and we wis really, really struggling. It wis bad ti get crews – we couldna doh nothing. There hid been a couple o Manx boats hid come across and started scallop fishin oot o Stoney and they’d done really, really weel. Some West coast lads hid come roond and aa and they’d faain in wi scallops aa roond aboot here. (33)

Alan was faced with a choice of modifying his boat for scallop fishing in order to stay and fish home waters or moving to the West Coast to prawn fish.

Ye can fish for prawn here bit nae twelve months o the year. Ye could ging ti the West coast or else North Shields I didna want ti ging awa, He decided - Right, I’ll awa and ging ti the scallops and get the shelter cut aff ti accommodate the scallop dredges. We’d a back shelter by this time – we gutted fish onboard the shelter and aathing. We’d ti cut it aff ti maak room for the scallop dredges.

Fishing practices and methods : (7) Scallop fishing equipment and procedures

A scallop dredge

A scallop dredge is two fit six broad and it’s got fit ye caa a teeth bar – it’s like metal spikes stuck and ye trawl, six o them on each side o the boat.

Celia : Like prongs, like forks?

Alan : Aye like forks, aye. Swords, ye caa them. Ye trawl them alang the sea bed and it taaks up aa the ….

Celia : Are they trailed a the end oa rope or on chains or fit wye are they …

Alan : No, six on each side o the boat and towed for a hour and a half or twa oors enough ti maak them fuhl o steens and scallops and aathing Shove aa the steens back, pick the scallops oot.

Celia : I’m picturing the prongs or fit iver ye caa them that’s teen aa the scallops bit far’s the container fir ..

Alan ; Well, at the back o that there’s a chain, like … that’s made o chain roond the rings weldit thegithir – we caa it chain bellies. It’s jist aboot three fit deep, aboot two fit – it hids a lot o steens. The scallops and steens ging in there. Ye’ve ti empty each one individually and pick oot the scallops and shove awa the steens (34)

Celia : Far di ye empty them intil?

Alan : On ti the deck

Celia : And now, how .. fin you’re at the start pittin the dredges in, are ye pittin them ower the stern or …

Alan : Richt ower the side o the boat on the dredge side –pit them ti the side they sit – lift them up wi a rope …

Celia : Wi a winch?

Alan : Oh aye, wii a winch. Let them doon and then the winch hauls them ti fit they caa an oot ledder which is a pole stickin oot fae the boat and start ti doh the same at the ithir side and … (35)

Celia : You sound incredibly knowledgeable aboot aathing. Ye’ve obviously picked up, ye ken, the technique for each type o fishin.

Alan : They didna ken nothing aboot that like That’s one thing they kent nothing aboot. I brocht it oot o Arbroath fin the boat wis gettin cut up ti get steel put doon the side o the boat – a bloke, he took us oot …. and we shot the gear wi the winch, touwed it five meenits and hauled it back and that wis aa we kent aboot it.

Celia : And di ye nevir feel slightly, ye ken, concerned or mabe a wee bittie faird – - at the thocht – Oh right, I’ve ti pit this new technique inti practice and there’s these members o my crew – they’re needin a bit o trainin as weel. How are wi gaen ti manage?

Alan : Aye, we managed bit it wis aithir that or the West coast and I didna want ti doh that. So that wis 1994 – and the first year we gid ti the scallops we did affa weel, affa weel and that wis kennin nothing aboot it. If I kent fit I ken noo, and ye could turn the clock back then, we wid hiv done affa, affa weel. At that time, it wis jist a case throwin them ower the side and then down the handle and away ye went. Ivery haul we hid wis fuhl o steens. Well, I ken how ti get oot o that noo.

Celia : How di ye get oot o that?

Alan : Well, ye’ve ti work wi springs. There are springs on the dredges and it depends foo ticht and slack they are and how much wire ye shoot and how fest the boat’s gaen. We can catch the same scallops noo, and widna catch half the steens. (Alan explains this in a little more detail).


A typical, viable scallop catch

Alan : If ye touwed for say two oors, if ye could get fae fower ti six baskets o scallops, that’s a good enough catch for us. At that time, we wis gettin fower, five, six, sevin, aicht, aye ten bit noo this year, a couple o good weeks, wi wis gettin fower and five – but if we get fower a day, fower minimum for a two oor touw, ….. ye wid get a pey oot o that bit it’s a struggle.

State of play in scallop fishing – falling catches – bigger boats and their practices compared with local scallopers


Celia : Di ye detect ony faain awa on the scallop scene? Aye, this year. And is that a ominous sign?

Alan : Aye, oh aye – for the size o boats.

Celia : How mony boats are scallop fishin roond aboot Gurden?

Alan : There’s nae a lot. There’s only us. We’re th only een but there’s strangers like We’ve got six dredges but some o them’s got aside fourteen

Celia : Is that nae a case o them over-fishin? Is that nae bein excessive?

Alan : I dah ken. I wid say it wis. See, fin we started the scallops, there wis a lot mair boats at it. And the were aa like us, sax or sevin a side and fin it come pohr weather they were in the herber. That things noo is like machines.

Celia : It’s almost like factory farmin except it’s at the sea.

Alan : Jist about. Well, the farmers doh it – well, this is jist my personal opinion, they’re aa crewed wi Poles and Lithuanians and aathing cause they canna get Scots folk ti doh it. That’s telling ye something.


Sales : overheads : making a living

We sell them ti a company in Peterheid – Seafood Ecosse. That’s telling ye far they’ve come fae. 99% o aathing that comes oot o that factory gings ti France. I’ve seen it misel. In the Loire Valley –

Celia ; Di ye get a good price?

Alan : We get a better price noo than they’ve been at this time o year since wi started. In real terms as they say, it’s nae a good price. Wi get £10 a kilo and the year wi started, 13 year ago at this time, w iwis getting £9 a kilo – so there’s nae really a big difference.

Celia : But di ye hae huge overheads? For – eh – is it still diesel?

Alan : Oh aye – diesel- diesel the lest twa years went through the roof.

Celia : And yer equipment – does that require a lot o maintenance?

Alan : Aye, well, the actual scallop gear dis. It’s expensive ti ging ti the sea like.

Celia : And ye’ve yer crew ti … pay

Alan : Aye – it’s the diesel – Ye’ve got ti hae it. Alan indicates diesel is major concern.

A Typical Day at the Scallops, fishing out of Gourdon or Montrose.

Celia : Are you typically – how lang are you oot at the sea typically – on a typical day?

Alan : Thirty-six oors.

Celia : Thirty-six oors – so it’s nae a day then.

Alan : If it’s weather A day – say wi were up at five a clock i the morning - depends far wir gaen -we could be twa oors fae the herber – jist say we are an wiv touwed maybe an oor and a half ti see if there’s a scallop there. If there’s a scallop there, we’ll try ti bide in that area aa day…. Alan indicates that such a valuable patch can be over-fished. After fishing there for a certain period, weather permitting, he would leave it but would try this area again at a later date if stuck unlike the factory style boats which would fish it to extinction. So we’ll mebbe hae twelve or fourteen times that lested two hours a time, then awa back ti the herber, land wir stuff bit ither than that, hae a nicht in wir bed, ga wa back and doh the same again, that wid be wir week in an ideal world bit the weather…. We land the catch and pit it on Douglas Welsh’s larry. He taks them fin he gings ti the Market in the morning. He taks it ti Aiberdeen : he taks some fir his shops but maist o them gins ti Seafood Ecosse in Peterheid.

Celia : There’s word, of course, aboot Aiberdeen Fish market bein closed completely and Peterheid wid tak ower, wid it?

Alan : Well, Douglas Welsh his been getting a lot o fish aff the ferry fae Shetland. Ken, he waits for the ferry comin in and he gets fish fae there. So he disna think he’s gaen ti hae ti ging ti Peterheid. Bit Aiberdeen’s kinda packed up the last twa weeks bit there’s nae the boats. It’s as simple as that. It’s worryin a right. There’s nae the boats.


16. Resaons for the decline of the fishing industry and the lack of fish in local waters : the need for some regulation

Celia : So, I’m beginning ti get a picture fae ye .This demise o the fishin industry across the board wid include trawlin and scallops and aa different types. So fit is your theory aboot that then, Alan? Fit di you attribute that till? Is it just a number o factors?

Alan : There’s nae fish aboot here - inshore, there’s nae fish.

Celia : It’s been fished bare?

Alan : Aye – I widna – I’m nae shoor. I dah ken if it’ssomething ti doh wi the climate. Honestly I dinna ken bit I ken – the haddock fishin aboot here – the pair trawlin hid a lot ti answer for for that cause the wye the Arbroath folk wis pair trawlin and they say it theirsels, the amount o fish they trawled wis unbelievable. Young fish. Single boat trawlin didna kill the same amount o young fish and they’re aye on aboot the sea’s warmin up, that’s fit it is bit whether it’s that or no, I honestly dinna ken. I mean there’s fish, fish doon the Yorkshire coast. If the sea’s warmin up, how is there nae neen here? Naebody kens bit I ken one thing, they canna come fae Auchenblae. (36) …. It his ti come fae ootbye. They think they’re gaen ti save the world wi aa this carbon footprint and aathing.

Celia : They say something like maybe the Gulf Stream. I ken that maybe disna sound realistic roond here but there are changes that are mair widespread. Fit di ye maak o the government’s attempts and the EU’s attempts at different restrictions – days per week for certain types o fishing, decommissioning etc?

Alan : It’s affa hard on thae lads that’s still gaen tae the white fish, that days at sea. That’s – there his ti be regulations. Dinna get me wrang. There his ti be regulations bit, I mean awa and tell Tesco’s that yer only workin three days a week. I mean ti fish. - that’s fit they’re getting telt. There’s mair – they big boats is tellin me there’s mair fish noo than they’ve seen for years. But there’s nae fish aboot here an far we yohsed ti fish. I dinna ken how.

Celia : Di ye mean there’s nae fish at the Shald Water even? (37)

Alan : Nuck, no ye see there’s nothing there. Fish’ll come back bit far they come back fae – this is a mystery.

Celia : Fit aboot that idea o waste, Alan. You mentioned, ye ken that a huge amount o fish were bein ta’en but they were undersized or they were killed or were thrown back and so on. Can that be dealt wi at aa?

Alan : Nuck – no, I dinna think so but they’re dumping bags o cod noo. Thery’re getting that much cod and they’ve made a quota for that. Yer nae even allowed ti land it.

Celia : Yer scarin me noo then. Is it nae even for fish meal?

Alan : No, no – there wis a photo in the Fishing News twa/three weeks ago. The boys hid ti dump a bag o cod because they werena legally allowed ti land it. That’s jist stupid. The hale thing’s stupid, I ken one thing. There his ti be regulation o some kind. There his ti be.


17. Scallop fishing regulations
The regulation on scallop fishing is the regulation on how much teeth ye kin hae on each dredge and the size o each dredge and they’re jist awa ti bring in new amount o dredges. They’re actually supposed ti bide outside twelve miles the eens that yohse fourteen dredges – supposed ti – and if ye yohse mair than eight, ye’ve ti bide ootside six mile – so that’s helped us a bit bit then. We’re the only boat that’s got less than aicht dredges aboot here like. But there his ti be regulation in aa fishin I wid say o some kind.


18. Fishing practices and methods – (6) Fishing cycles : revivals – creel fishing – Velvet crabs – non-traditional catches – perhaps symptomatic of deeper problems

Celia : Do you think the scallop fishin’ll jist hae a period o time fan it’s viable as well- like mebbe seine nets declined – trawlin – they hiv ti ging awa ti Iceland or something like that and scrape the hale bottom o the sea up. Then ye’ve got yer scallop fishin – di ye think that’ll maybe …..

Alan : Could aisy – yip – aathing seems ti get a turn richt enough. I mean – Jimmy Broon hid ti stop the creels cause ye couldna maak a livin. (38) The creels is a good thing i the noo.

Celia : The Stoney lads – I think there’s three boats at Stoney fish creels – and they get some. (39)

Alan : The creels – aa roond the coast o Scotland – the creels is the boom thing i the noo. Definitely, cause – that wis Jimmy Broon hid ti stop – he hid 300 creels himsef – that wis unheard o at that time and he’d ti stop.

Celia : But, it’s maakin a comeback?

Alan : Oh aye – aa roond Scotland – in the Fishing News aa ye see’s a new creel boat. It’s jist – well, the West Coast especially they’ve built up markets there. They land them inti trucks and they’re jist ta’en richt ti Spain. And they fish for things, that fin I started wi yer father, - He widna hiv looked at it – if ye got ony o them, ye jist battered them aff the side o the boat bit there wisna much o them at that time. This is anither thing that’s – we caa’d them Fleein Crabs – Velvet Crabs is their name. The Spaniard ging daft for them. And they’re oot here noo, they’re catchin boxes o them faras ten year ago, there wisna neen o them. It’s keeping a lot o creel boats on the East Coast o Scotland going that widna hiv managed to keep going bit how they … how they prosperin wi thae Flying Crabs? Fit’s cheenged ti maak them propser? Something’s cheenged. The theory we wis thinking wis eh – and this wis me speakin ti Steven Morrison, Wayne Barbour (40) – this is fit we think. We reckon that the codlins ett them and they’re saft and that kept them doon. There’s nae codlins noo. (41) That’s oor theory. There’s boxes o them. Sometimes if it wisna for them …

The Velvet Crabs are landed and transported direct to Spain by lorry.

Lack of uptake of fishing for a living by the current generation of Scottish youths, their places taken by Polish and Lithuanian crews. Fortunately Alan’s crew comprises one Gourdon and one Montrose lad.


19. Favourite type of fishing – Gourdon no longer a designated landing port for white fish – further decline/demise of local inshore fishing

Really, if I could get a livin trawlin for fish, I wid be back at that, like. Bit I div like gaen ti the scallops. I’m the only een that’s stuck at it aboot here. I’m the only een that seems ti really like it like bit it’s a job that ye like or ye dinna like. If I can get a livin at hame, trawlin for white fish wid jist beat gaen ti the scallops, if I kid get a livin at it bit I widna get a livin at it here. That wid be mi favourite – trawlin for white fish because if I went back ti that noo, yer nae actually legally allowed ti land fish on the pier at Gurden cause it’s not a designated landing port.

Celia : How did it get undesignated? It must have been designated at some point cause there were huge fish markets her fin I wis a girl. (42)

Alan : It got undesignated, that wid be five year ago, fower year ago, five year ago and we went ti see – Robert Smith, (43) me, aabody, Ian Barbour, Stephen, Peter, Wayne, even though they were at the creels, we aa got a meetin, well, went ti see him at Banchory fir a start and then we got a meetin wi him. He come doon the pier, Robert Smith and some EU wifie and he said he wid doh fit he could. Obviously he couldna doh enough and that’s Gurden. Yer not allowed legally ti land – ye can land a prawn or a scallop or a partan or a labster bit ye cannot land white fish and Arbroath is not a designated landing port. (44)

Alan draws another Tesco analogy, comparing the number of shops in Gourdon in the youth of the interviewer/interviewee and the present single shop to the number of smaller boats operating and the number of big scallopers

Wid they nae be better wi forty boats my size wi three Scots lads aboard it, keepin a hundred and twenty families goin than ten o this big things which his got the same amount o dredges bit it’s jist like the shops ti use that analogy. Ye’d be better wi thirty boats like me wi three Scots lads aboard it. Look at the fowk they’re keeping.


20. Gourdon at present - The future – cause for optimism? An old fisherman’s widsom

Well, there’s Peter and Stephen, they fish for prawns aa the year roond and they struggle at certain times a year. And Ian Balgowaan, he trawls for prawns oot a here. He fae Stoney bit he trawls fir prawns – cause the prawn grunds is nearer here, aff Montrose, six mile aff Montrose doon ti six mile aff Arbroath. We’re awa ti start that for a couple a month – supposed ti be the best month fir it here – so jist ti gie the scallops a rest and hae a cheenge. And there’s Wayne Barbour – he fishes the creels twelve month i the year - he disna get sae much velvets bit Kevin Birse and his father, Derek, they’ve got a boat and they catch a lot o velvets. They target them. Wayne disna actually target them. They’re targetin the velvets. Kevin’s got a catamaran – 24 fit cataraman – it’s a new boat like – a terrific boat and his father’s got a 26 fit boat his-sel noo bit they target the velvets mair like cause there’s nae been sae much labsters, he wis telling mi lest year.

Celia : Fit aboot that lad that bocht mi father’s little boatie that used ti be caa’d the Celia Craig?

Alan : Charlie – he still pits in creels like- Charlie Lownie – and he sometimes pits in net for a bit o sea bass. That’s something else that wis nevir heard o.

Celia : Ye nevir got sea bass – nuck. The kind o fish ye got in Gurden fin you were grouwin up and I wis grouwin up as well, Alan, wis cod, haddock, whiting - and plaice - and plaice and ye got flukes (45) and they were the best fish i the world. They were lovely. Oh aye.

Alan ; Bit there’s nae fish here. I dinna ken how bit ….

Celia : Cause it hisna been overfished, his it?!

Alan : It his in a wye and it hisna. It wisna actually overfished aboot here bit as I say they canna come fae Auchenblae. Whither it his something to doh wi the weathir or no, we dinna ken.

Celia : Maybe they were overfished at one period? Was there nae a period o time fin the big boats were bringin in 30 – 40 boxes?

Alan : Ach, na – that wisna overfishin. I dah think so – nae fin we wis young. Well, Peter aye says ti me he heard this een. I cah mind – some o the auld lads fin he wis young. There wis an affa pohr year onywye, this auld retired lad – I cah mind fa he wis – Peter’ll tell ye. He wis on the pier and somebody hid said the boats his done affa pohr i the noo. I doot they’re aa taen (i.e. all the fish). The boy turned roond and said, “Ach, they’ve aa been taen since I wis a bairn”.. Bit there’s nothing oot here. Peter, I cah mind fa it wis – it wis some auld lad said “They’ve aa been taen since I wis a bairn”. Bit there wis pohr years afore cause I mind yer father said ti me they hid ti ging ti the tatties (potato picking) The boys hid ti stop and ging ti the tatties. Ken there wis nae global warming in thae days.

Celia : It’s aye been precarious.

Alan : There hiv aye been pohr times. Definitely bit it’s this white fish thing aboot here. I canna – there’s naebody kens. It’s a mystery. It’s this white fish thing oot here, as I say. Naebody kin understand it. The amount o fish that wis taen here – it’s unbelievable. Gurden wis famous fir codlins. Line codlins. Even fin we wis at the trawls, wi catched codlins. They’re nae here. Yet thae big boats is sayin they’re finding mair codlins than they’ve din fir years bit they’re certainly nae aboot here. Whether they’ll come back or no. The really, really gallin thing aboot it is if they div come back, I’ll hae nae richt ti catch them. Cause I’ve nae quota left. Cause I hid ti ging ti the scallops or we wis gaen ti be oot the door if we didna shift ti the scallops. The boat wid hid ti been sellt. Simple as that. And there’s mair than me like that bit – and that’s the worst thing aboot it. If it (white fishing) dis come back, we’re nae gaen ti hae the richt ti catch them. (46) Even though yer pittin them ontil a larry at Gurden, disna matter – it’s still landing them here. Cause I aye came here. I didna like Aiberdeen. I jist didna like it.

Alan goes on to clarify the situation concerning his loss of quota status and to explain the system of renting out or transferring quotas among boats, another thing the Gurden fishermen of the 60s would not have stood for.

Celia : It’s jist the destruction o the traditions.

Alan : It’s jist comin in here – there’s nothing like comn in here and throwin yer fish on a larry and walkin hame, instead o gaen in ti Aiberdeen, sit in a car. That’s the gallin thing aboot it, Celia. It’s jist went aa ti pot really if ye sit doon and think aboot it. As I say, I think there’ll aye be a livin o some description. Fit we’ll be catchin I dinna ken bit aye something turns up. It wid be an affa day if there wisna a boat left in Gurden.


21. An old Montrose Skipper’s theory

Andrew Mearns – he’s a retired skipper fae Montrose – he said ti me – he stopped – aboot ten year, I suppose. He wisna 65. He sellt his boat. He’d haen enough. He said ti me, “It’ll nae maitter onywye, ye’ve had it” I says, “Foo’s that, Andra?” He says – this wis his theory – “Somewye or anithir, even though it taaks anithir twenty years, there’ll mebbe be some Scottish (It wis the white fish, he wis speakin aboot) – there’ll mebbe be some Scottish white fish boats left bit there winna be much. The Continent’ll own aa yer quotas and they’ll own the richt ti yer fish. He always said that to me. I says, “Foo’s that, Andra?” He says, “It’s the great thing eftir the War – it wisna the EU – ti start aff wi – I could be wrang, I think it wis caa’d the European Steel and Coal company or something. It wis the Frogs and the Germans bit it wis jist ti stop anithir war cause they’d hin three gos, ye see. Ken, they’d the First War and the Seecond War and the Franco-Prussian War, ye see. We’d nothing ti doh wi that. They’d hin three gos at een anithir. Some o thae lads thocht, Na, na, we’re nae haen anithir go. Well, that’s my theory.. Aye, he says, “The French’ll hae aa the agriculture; the Germans’ll hae aa the industry and the Spaniards’ll hae aa the fish.” I says, “Fit’ll we doh, Andra?”. He says, “I dinna ken.”

Alan reflects on the powerlessness of the Fisheries Ministry and Scotland’s lack of voice in the EU. Perhaps the Scottish Parliament/Government under the SNP will prove stronger, especially with the First Minister, Alex Salmond having a North east Constituency. Alan solves the environment issue at a stroke by suggesting that only cars of 1.6 litres be permitted, apart from accredited working lorries and vans.

Another Old Skipper, from Gourdon, Andrew Gove Cargill attests to weather conditions at present being nothing new, putting the environmental issue in perspective.

I mind ae year, twa – three year ago – fin I spoke to Govie. It hid been northerly winds aa the summer. I’ll tell ye it wis jist eftir the langest day. We come back fae Arbroath wi pint and I says ti Govie, “This is terrible wi this northerly wind aa this time and aathing.” He says, “Ach, I’ve seen it aa afore.” I says, “Di ye think so, Govie – as bad as this”. “Oh aye, “ he said. He said, “They put an aerial up on the Hall for the Queen’s Coronation, 1953, June. the something? It blew doon wi a northerly gale, so there ye go.” I says, ”Ah well, Govie, yer richt enough.” They’ve seen it aa afore. So he didna seem ti think it wis onything oot o the ordinary.



Footnotes

(1) Gourdon, pronounced Gurden by the locals is small village some 12 miles south of Stonehaven, once a thriving line and seine net fishing port.
(2) Taken in connection with the other inshore fishing interviews from Gourdon and Stonehaven, also available on the Website and with the interview of a Gourdon fisherman’s wife, Alan’s interview provides fascinating insights and comparisons over the two periods covered – the earlier period, pre and immediately post-World War II and the later period of the 1970s to the present, 2007
(3) Crawton, some three miles south of Stonehaven, was once afishing village, now known for its famous bird sanctuary, Fowlsheugh.
(4) “Deddie” is unique Gurden term for “grandfather”, echoed in the terms “didy” and “dide”, still current further north, around Inverallochy/Cairnbulg and St Combs. See article on the term by the interviewer in the May issue of Leopard magazine.
(5) Gourdon was renowned for line fishing. See Interviews with Andrew Gove Cargill and James Lownie, archived with Elphinstone Institute, extracts on Elphinstone Kist website
(6) Andrew Gove Cargill, Skipper of the Reaper – see footnote 5
(7) At this time school children got three weeks holidays to go to the tattie picking. It was a much prized activity for its fun as well as for the income generated.
(8) Andrew Gove Cargill, Sandy Donaldson, Alan’s father, Willie Dorward and Andrew Mill
(9) A favourite Gourdon fishing ground, some miles out.
(10) This understatement usually means it was pretty rough and unpleasant!
(11) Alan clarifies that he first saw seine net fishing while his father was still with Govie Cargill on the Reaper and thereafter when his father got a berth with the Quest. The Morrison brothers still fish out of Gourdon : Govie Cargill continues to enjoy his retirement.
(12) Robert Gowans and Alex Gowans, both Gourdon Skippers at the time.
(13) Nickname of Robert Ceretti
(14) Sheelin and baitin for the line fishing was hard graft for the women folk and lasted throughout the long, weary months of winter.
(15) See Andrew Gove Cargill Interview for Elphinstone Institute.
(16) Gourdon pupils were uplifted each morning around 8 o’ clock to be transported to Mackie Academy in Stonehaven, some 12 miles north, a procedure that still pertains to this day. Other pupils from the other coastal villages and from the hinterland were similarly served.
(17) The Harbour Bar was one of the then two Gourdon hostelries.
(18) Alan’s first berth was with the Interviewer’s father, Alex Craig, Skipper of the Trustful. Their fathers were buddies
(19) At that time we lived along the main street from the harbour at 7 Mowatt’s Lane, a “cottage” built by my Mowatt grandfather, I believe.
(20) My father may be quoting here from a favourite song, You’re as welcome as the flowers in May to dear old Donegal” Certainly he had a somewhat romantic turn of phrase at times and had a wide repertoire of songs which he both sang and played on the violin or guitar or banjo. He was a versatile musician. His stock of songs included many Scottish and Irish ballads as well as British and American popular songs from many periods.
(21) Robert Warden, a member of the crew, currently a fish van owner/salesman
(22) This proposal was put to him by Douglas Welsh, a young fish merchant at the time who later undertook a number of entrepreneurial initiatives connected with fishing. Johner is Johnsahven, a village some 3 miles south of Gourdon which even then in 1970s was on the wane as far as fishing was concerned. It still survives as a village with social aspects.
(23) The system was operated as share fishermen, with each crew member getting an equal share/deal of the total catch money, with the Skipper getting two deals one for himself and one for the boat. It may be that the boat’s deal was only a half deal. I cannot remember . It appears too that a youngster like Alan received only a half deal/share, probably because he would have brought only half a full line to fish with.
(24) David Davidson would have had an apprenticeship.
(25) Alan pronounces the sum, of course, as aichteen .
(26) Douglas Welsh would be the main owner though Alan would have £100 of shares/input and would skipper the boat while Welsh remained ashore at his fish merchant work. Alan was hearing some traditional Gurden cautious advice here!
(27) Govie Cargill participated in the Grant and Loan Scheme after the War, alone among Gourdon Skipers though cost was an important factor. The applicant had to be able to contribute £1,000 up front which may have been beyond the means of returning ex-servicemen.
(28) A certain lack of adventurousness would seem to characterise most Gurden Skippers in certain respects though there was certainly innovation in other fields – fishing methods, equipment, devices, even among older Skippers, e.g. my father!
(29) This has proved highly interesting for the interviewer who did not fully realise how innovative her father’s fishing system was!
(30) Rock hoppers were used in trawling
(31) Alan is referring to a specific, pocket watch popular with fishermen at the time.
(32) The broo is the bureau – where unepmployment benefit was cleared.
(33) The area was very fruitful – a virgin ground for scallops then
(34) Alan later supplied fuller details about the procedures and devices for scallop fishing over the phone, explainng about the dredges, with forward pointing prongs and the teeth bar, with downward pointing teeth, resembling a sort of farming harrow. The dredges which are towed are spring-loaded, casting the scallops up and behind into the chain bellies system, with its chain-linked and netted “container”.
(35) The dredges are lowered over the side of the boat from a “pole”. Any errors in the description of the devices and procedures are those of the interviewer, not the interviewee, of course!
(36) Auchenblae is a country village – not on the coast!
(37) The Shald Water was a favourite Gurden fishing ground – the Montrose Bank – which formerly yielded excellent catches.
(38) Jimmy Brown, a Gourdon fishman a little younger than Alan, is now Harbour Master at both Stonehaven and Gourdon. His current boat is a fine yacht! He went creel fishing perhaps in the 80s.
(39) Stoney – Stonehaven declined as a fishing port long before Gourdon started to suffer. Today it is largely concerned with pleasure boats.
(40) These Gourdon fisherman are younger than the Gourdon skippers of the 60s, 70s and are managing to cling on to fishing out of Gourdon in some way.
(41) Alan clearly means in the old days the codlins comsumed the Velvet Crabs which can now survive in the absence of cod.
(42) The Interviewer is appalled!
(43) Constituency M.P.
(44) Such measures, closing off the smaller fishing ports has clearly contributed to the demise of inshore fishing.
(45) Flukes are flat fish - flounders
(46) Alan’s clear explanation of this Catch-22 type situation highlights the sad demise of white fishing, with men forced out of trawling into scallop fishing, losing their quotas as a result, along with the “transference” of quotas, culminating in the loss of the right to catch white fish – if the fish ever return! In addition the right to a Gurden fish market has also been lost – Gurden is no longer a designated landing port and fish cannot even be landed and loaded on to a lorry for further transport from Gourdon. Men can no longer fish from home as it were – leave the house, go to sea, return, land their catch anad walk home. In effect and sadly, Gourdon/Gurden is no longer a working fishing village though it still has fish houses and a few boats work out of Gourdon and moor in the harbour. The traditions have been destroyed.



© University of Aberdeen   Return to Home page