And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! (1894) / by Francisco Blaha

I always maintained that I'm a very fortunate man, and for many reasons. Just one of them is that I have the opportunity to know brilliant and capable people, and somehow manage to make a good enough impression, as for them to remember who I am, and then be very helpful and communicative with me.

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894 .  Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive! 1894. Oil on Canvas Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. ©Museo del Prado. Madrid

Shelton Harley is one example of those very smart people I refer above. I wrote about him before in these posts. After leaving SPC he came back to NZ, and he is the Manager Fisheries Science at Fisheries NZ. In any case, he was in Madrid last week and during his walking through the "Museo del Prado" (one of Europe's most important art museums) a painting caught his attention and “out of the blue”, he contacted me with a link to it.

The info he sent me indicates two things to me: 1) How thoughtful he is and 2) how ingrained (i think) is the issue of crew welfare, on all of those that been at sea and/or work around issues of fisheries sustainability, independently if it is stock assessments, MCS, policy, oceanography, etc. even if utile recently not much has been done.

The painting he was referring me to, is called "And They Still Say Fish Is Expensive!" and it was painted in 1894, and you can read about it here.

The description is timeless and could be happening today in many parts of the world:

“… shows a scene inside the hold of a fishing boat, where a young sailor, barely a boy, is lying on the ground after an accident at sea. On his naked torso hangs a medallion, a protective amulet to guard fishermen against misfortune. The young man is treated for his injuries by two old fishing companions, both with serious concentration on their faces. One holds him by the shoulders, whilst the other, wearing a traditional Catalan cap, applies a compress to the wound, which he has just wet in the pot of water in the foreground. The three sailors are surrounded by fishing tackle, whilst in the background is a pile of fish, caught during this unfortunate day’s work…”

For me personally is very poignant, albeit the fact that fisheries was and continues to be perhaps the most dangerous occupation in the world, I was once the youngest in the crew... and after one broken knee, a broken jaw with 3 molars gone forever, at least 12 "hooks in flesh and face" and "head against bulkheads” scars, two shipwrecks, some collisions, fires, massive gear malfuntions and other shit that happened in the last 30 years… I still around, and this continually remains me what I said on my first sentence above, I'm a very fortunate man.

While H&S in fisheries has advanced a lot in developing countries, I believe we haven't moved forwards it in the same extent than forestry and mining, for example, have done... and that is a significant inside debt we have. Wich grows exponentially bigger when you get to know the realities of less developed countries and flags of convenience.

Yes, fishing is no doubt is a dangerous job, and perhaps there is a natural limit to how “safe can it be”, but that inherent danger was the main reason why 30 years ago I was getting paid more per day than anyone else my age and my limited qualifications at the time... but those days are gone, the job may be a bit less dangerous today in some countries, but the payments are abysmally lower in comparison.

As I mention I was doubtful about "branching out" into labour issues, from my usual "pure fisheries" work... yet the support I had has been amazing. From people contacting me with ideas and information up to small but very mindful gestures like Shelton's one in this case...

And yes, unfortunately, 125 years after this painting was made, not much has changed and many people "still say fish is expensive!"