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James Skinner

My thoughts went out to the fishermen on the ships out at sea, fighting for their lives month after month in order to bring back a few shekels to feed their loved ones whilst this lot were more worried about replacing their BMW’s.

Having completed my studies and embarked on a new career as a borne again journalist, the first thing I did on my first assignment was to get lost. I had been given the task of reporting for Fishing News International, a UK based monthly, on the ‘II International Conference on Tuna Fish’ at the Spanish canning industry’s association headquarters in Galicia, northwest Spain. My first step was to obtain all the background knowledge I could on the subject. Diligently following my tutor’s teachings, I researched to nth degree all I could on tuna fish, fishing politics, canning factories and eventually, all about the conference itself, including press authorisations and venue location.
Blackfin Tuna

Armed with camera, tape-recorder and a portfolio of information I drove up the winding hilltop roads to the Vigo University campus looking for the wretched conference hall. I had allowed enough time to arrive early but had not anticipated road works or traffic diversions. I must have past ‘GO’ three times until I finally arrived at my destination with ten minutes to spare. But then Spain is still the land of ‘mañana’. After another half hour waiting to register together with the rest of my fellow professionals, I finally trooped into the hall in time to witness the initial ceremony. Well, the first two speakers were politicians, one from the EU and the other from Spain. Both were fishing directors or secretaries, I wasn’t quite sure. My mind began to wander. I started to look around me. There I was with a group of twenty plus jean cladded journalists, photographers, TV crew, looking at some hundred or so Armani clothed executives. Some had earphones plugged in listening to the poor sod in the interpreter’s booth translating whatever was emanating from the speaker’s table. These in turn were on about statistics of tuna fish caught, gutted and placed in tin coffins that were then injected with salt, oil or water to be finally placed and sold in supermarkets around the world.
‘We must protect the quality as well as the competitive price’, one uttered. The audience, mainly big ship owners and canning factory magnates, were concerned about reduction of quotas, loss of revenues and all the other financial paraphernalia that goes with the business. My thoughts went out to the fishermen on the ships out at sea, fighting for their lives month after month in order to bring back a few shekels to feed their loved ones whilst this lot were more worried about replacing their BMW’s. 

Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted when one of the ‘politicos’ stated that the majority of the catch was in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. I then reverted to the present world crisis and thought: ‘If the US deploys its naval might in the area, not one of your boats will get to within a thousand miles of the tuna banks. What’s more, the stock depletion you’re all talking about will automatically be stopped and in two years time you’ll have enough tuna to pay for new conferences like this one’. 

Then the flashes started. Camera time. Back to the living. I pulled out my twenty-year old Pentax, all tuned up with a new role only to find that the bloody flash was dud. Dead batteries! I tried to open the aperture of the damn machine to its maximum limits. Still no reaction. Luckily I brought my wife’s portable. I certainly felt a fool. There I was, standing next to the local TV station cameraman zooming in and out with the latest video technology whilst I clicked away with my supermarket automatic.  The first session was over in about two hours and the panel reverted to question time. My fellow reporters started to take notes whilst others, including yours truly were poised with our tape-recorders. I was never good at shorthand! I was feeling more at ease. My brain tuned in to the essence of the conference. I began to differentiate between the intelligence and the ‘drivel’, what, in effect was the saleable material. I realised why I was here in the first place. 

During lunch break, I was given my press package with all the speech transcripts and a few souvenirs to give my grandchildren. I conversed with other press correspondents and found out that they were quite normal. We exchanged ‘professional’ views on the venue and although I confessed to not knowing the difference between a tuna fish and a Scotch salmon was offered a tip or two on conference reporting like this one.  

I returned to my laptop to complete my report only to find a new assignment waiting in the wings. A new and unique ‘hospital’ ship called ‘Hope of the Sea’ had recently been launched and commissioned by Spain’s Social Security. Her role is to patrol the fishing grounds in the North Atlantic in support of the Spanish fishing fleet. My lucky break was that she was visiting the port of Vigo, the day after the end of the conference.  Once again, I packed my gear, trotted down to the docks and was welcomed by the ship’s compliment for a first hand, guided tour of the ship. My fellow reporters greeted me like an old hand in the business.  

© James Skinner. 2001.

(I guess you pass the course then Jim - all the best from Hackwriters for your new career)Ed.

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