I spent a day at sea fishing for langoustines, just for you !
When I arrived at Eric’s boat the Avel an Heol on the quay at Lechiagat, I was eager to discover the job of fisherman. However, the day out, organized by Haliotika at Le Guilvinec, is far from being a relaxing boat trip with men pretending to fish. Between 25 and 30 boats put out from Le Guilvinec harbour every day, with 2 to 4 fishermen per boat.
This is no ordinary day out, it is full-on total immersion in the everyday life of fishermen, providing a unique insight into the life of the region. A truly thrilling experience ! OK
A day out at sea, searching for 'Pink Treasure' in Pays Bigouden.
05.15 : The weather is fine at Lechiagat harbour as we board the Avel an Heol under the watchful eye of Eric, the skipper, who says “The light breeze you can feel here will be stronger at sea and it’ll be quite chilly”. The two crewmen take up their positions and we slip our moorings and leave the harbour, heading for “Karreg Jean”. Eric tells us that all the fishing areas were named by fishermen a long time ago, some after their wives and others after particular incidents, e.g. toul caillou (hole full of pebbles), potager (vegetable garden), poulailler (henhouse) and even Claire Chazal (after a famous TV news reader!). The langoustine fleet sets sail together for the fishing grounds, but Eric decides to go it alone in the area known as 'L’Enfer' or hell….
It is still dark and we find ourselves looking at the sky and imagining fishermen under sail long ago, navigating by the stars.
- 07.30 We arrive at the fishing grounds, put the trawl nets down to a depth of 200m and sail eastwards at 3 knots, following a path that has been taken many times before. The ship’s computer has logged all the trips for the past 20 years. A fisherman’s life is summed up on a luminous screen. “When I first started, I used a map and my finger, now I’m 2 years away from retirement.” We talk about handing over and handing down skills, selling the boat and young fishermen of today.
One of the crew is below deck making something to eat. The smell of frying onions overcomes that of diesel. “Today it’s tripe. D’you like that ?” I decide to give it a miss as the swell of the sea and the smell of diesel haven’t managed to whet my appetite, but…. I haven’t been seasick ! Yesssss !!
10.30 : Time to haul the nets. The catch is good, Eric was right to choose L’Enfer. On the radio we hear the other boats haven’t been so successful. I ask Eric whether they’ll come and join us. “Helping one another is important. If I don’t catch anything one day, I’m always happy when a colleague tells me which area the langoustines are in.”
The trawl nets are put back in the water and the crew separate the fish from the langoustines and grade them. “We fish for langoustines, if there are fish too it’s a bonus to sell on the market, but it’s not our main objective.”
13.30 : We haul the nets for a second time and it’s another excellent catch. “Hell isn’t all that bad, after all ! ” The catch is sorted quickly and the nets are put down on the sea bed once more. Eric chats on the radio to his colleagues and cousins on the other boats on the horizon. “Do you know what word you must never say aboard a boat like this ?” “Yes,” I reply. “Once a tourist said The Word four times because he was a hunter and the trawl broke, it really does bring bad luck, so don’t say it…”
Me : “I promise I won’t say it…”
I don’t notice the movement of the waves any more, I’ve got used to it.
“Sometimes tourists are seasick the whole trip, but we can’t take them back in or we’ll lose a day’s fishing. It’s a hard job as you can see. You’ve come for the day. We do it every day.”
- 15.00 :
We head towards land for the last trawl of the day.
The trawls are raised for the last time and the catch is good, yet again. We chat on the radio with the other boats as we all head for port, laughing and joking. The sun is shining and the wind has dropped to a light breeze once more.
We come into harbour in spectacular fashion. The fishing boats are eagerly awaited like stars. The crowds of people watching from the balcony outside Haliotika don’t miss a thing as the boats perform their daily ballet show. A man is waiting to give us a hand “He’s a Parisian, a new arrival, it’s handy to have help”.
Time to say goodbye. Eric is passionate about his job and loves to share his enthusiasm as is shown by the comments left in the Visitor’s Book. “With all the people who have come aboard and I’ve hit it off with, I could easily do a tour of France!”
So if you’re lucky enough to meet Eric or one of his colleagues for a day out, you’ll need a thick jumper, to be in good shape and full of enthusiasm !
Where to buy langoustines
. You can buy live langoustines from fishmongers’ stalls and shops by the harbour, in indoor markets and at supermarkets. If you’re camping or don’t fancy cooking, just ask the fishmonger to cook them for you.
. Buy langoustines straight from the boats at 16.30 at Lesconil harbour, on the same side as the Cantine de la Mer restaurant. Don’t forget to bring a plastic bag.
. At the annual ‘Fete de la Langoustine’ held at Lesconil on the 1st Saturday in August. One tonne of langoustines to eat, visit the boats and discover the world of fishing. Fun and games beside and on the water, concerts.