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Scallop fishing

Hard work for hardy folks

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Grégoire

Welcome aboard Surya, a Saint-Malo registered vessel that fishes scallops in the bay of Saint-Brieuc from October to March

Welcome aboard the Surya

Monday 8 am, on the port of Bas-Sablons in Saint-Malo, the Surya, multi-purpose fishing boat 12 metres long, leaves the port and sets its course to the north-west, towards the Bay of Saint-Brieuc and its scallop beds, along with 250 other boats with permits for this winter fishing campaign. Two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, Till (the skipper) and Briac (his first mate) work hard to bring home their catch. Briac docks the two side-dredges to the cables connected to the central winch. On choppy waters, it takes about two and a half hours to get to the fishing grounds.

10 am, we leave the imposing silhouette of Cape Fréhel to the port side under a bright sun. Lots of are already on the bay of Saint-Brieuc, each observing the others to see where they're finding the best catch. As Briac smokes a last cigarette, Till watches the boats with the binoculars, and the tension is palpable as the decision where to cast the nets is made.

10:40 am, the nets are in place, ready to go into action. Like the other boats, Surya makes circles in the water waiting for the start.

10:54, the Maritime Affairs aircraft announces on VHF that fishing can start at 11!

11:00 am, Away we go: all the power of the engine is called-upon, 300 horsepower comes into action in a flash. With one eye on the screen and the other on the horizon, Till shouts instructions to Briac who operates the winch. The two dredge nets are launched at the same time, one at 110 meters, the other at 90 meters so that they don't tangle with each other. After 10 minutes of dredging at full power with the Surya sometimes shaking with the strain and the cables as tight as a wire, the nets are brought on board in a clatter of metal. Till comes down from the cabin and rushes over the dredgers to open them, dumping shells and pebbles over the deck, before being immediately relaunched. Two more passes will follow, in the same frenzy of activity, using until the end of the allowed time of 45 minutes.

11:50, the tension abates and catch draws a sigh of relief from Till: it's pretty good! Almost 600 kg of shellfish will just cover the costs. But now is not the time for accounting. Shells and pebbles cover the bridge, and have to be sorted. After checking their size, the shells are put into bags. Kneeling on the deck, the two sailors will be busy during the whole return trip while the autopilot guides the boat up the marked channel to the entrance of the port of Saint-Malo. On the Dinan quay, the precious bags of scallops are exchanged with the other boats.

At 3 pm, in the port of Bas-Sablons, Surya returns to her berth. Still marked by the intensity of the moment that I have just experienced, I disembark and walk awkwardly I can feel my legs will believe I'm still at sea until long into the evening!

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