The Toughest Place to be a … Fisherman

The Toughest Place to be A … is a BBC TV series which takes people who do jobs in the UK and transfers them to the toughest place in the world to do that job. There have been twelve original episodes to date and three return episodes. The show has seen a British midwife try the same job in Liberia, West Africa, a paramedic going to Guatemala City and a miner working in the Mongolia. The episode which is most likely to be of interest to people interested in sea fishing is the episode on the toughest place in the world to be a fisherman. In this episode we meet Andy Giles, a 40-year-old commercial fisherman from Cornwall who owns an operates the 100-ton, £750,000 trawler Guiding Light. This show gives a very different impression of commercial fishing to other programmes such as Trawler Wars and Trawlermen. Rather than stressing the danger of commercial fishing this programme tells us that the Guiding Light is designed to “take the strain out of fishing” as we see the nets full of dogfish, bass and monkfish being hydraulically hauled on board the boat. We also see the advanced fish finding echo technology on board and the creature comforts such as DVD player and TV. This is an interesting demonstration of how the narrative of television works – as the programme will be contrasting the work of a British fisherman with one from a much less developed country it has to play down the very danger which shows such as Trawlermen and Trawler Wars hype up, a situation made even more silly as Giles fishes in the exact same waters where Trawler Wars is filmed! Anyone watching this show with no other knowledge of commercial fishing would believe that trawling in British waters is indeed fairly easy and free of danger.

Mania, Sierra Leone

Most of the episode takes place in Mania, Sierra Leone.

The show picks up when Giles is taken to the village of Mania in the West African country of Sierra Leone. Here he meets a group of subsistence fishermen led by a man called Kaba. Their way of life revolves around going out fishing, with the fish they catch being used to feed the people of the village. Their method of fishing involves carrying their boat (which is effectively a hollowed out tree) to the beach where they launch it and have to put in back breaking physical effort to row past the breakers and reach the fishing grounds. Once there they set static nets to catch the fish. Giles is shocked by the effort they have to put in for meagre rewards of a few fish, and is incensed by the foreign trawlers working just a few miles of the shore. These trawlers break fishing laws and regulations by ignoring the five mile exclusion zone which is supposed to exist and are responsible for the massive reduction of fish in the area – an issue which is life and death to Kaba who relies on fish to feed his family. The Toughest to be a … Fisherman is a fascinating programme. While the portrayal of the British commercial fishing industry may not be accurate it is certainly a safer and easier working environment that that of the fishermen of Mania, and the programme does an excellent job of contrasting the two. Giles is clearly shocked by the conditions that the African fishermen have to work in and the unfairness of the lack of regulation which sees foreign trawlers destroying their fishing grounds.

The Toughest Place to be a … Fisherman was selected for one of the three ‘return’ episodes where we see Giles return to the village of Mania. Despite the fact that the first half of this return programme is simply footage recapping what happened in the first show  it eventually gets round to showing Giles get back to Mania it is just as fascinating to see just how much things have changed for the better for Kaba, his family and the people of Mania.

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