The RTÉ series, Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest, from Whitethorn Films, returns to our screens on Wednesday, June 7th on RTÉ 1 at 9:35 pm, with well-known skipper, Johnny Walsh from Kinsale.
The series is based on Irish farmers, foresters, and fishermen as they experience life in some of the most challenging conditions on earth, and they find out if they have what it takes to live off the land and sea in a developing country.
Episode one sees Cork fisherman, Johnny Walsh, catapulted onto a primitive wooden boat off the West Coast of Africa in overexploited Gambian fishing waters.
Here, he navigates the precarious food supply of the community of Tanji and other coastal Gambian communities whose dwindling fish stocks force them to take perilous sea journeys to escape to Europe and beyond.
In this programme, 55-year-old skipper Johnny Walsh takes to the high seas, a long way from his native Kinsale, where his trawlers set sail from in the depths of winter and scour the North Atlantic for prawns and pelagic fish.
A lifer at sea, Johnny has been fishing since the age of 17.
His destination this time: the waters off the tiny West African republic of The Gambia, where fishermen are concerned, not with surplus and profit, but with sustenance and survival.
Johnny’s first sight of Tanji, the fishing hub which is home to The Gambia’s commercial fleet, is a shock to the system.
A long way from the pristine, hi-tech environment of an Irish commercial trawler, Johnny finds rusted ice-boxes in the fishing huts, platforms of fish-skins drying out on the beach, and colourful, rickety, traditional fishing boats carrying the catch ashore.
Johnny also finds the entire community engaged in the business of fishing, with crews living together with their families in compounds, where wives, children and the elderly await the daily catch of sardinella – the core of their staple diet.
Out at sea, Johnny rolls back year the years to his earliest days on Irish trawlers, before the advent of modern technology.
Schools of fish are located by sight and instinct, lured into the nets by crew members stamping on the deck, and hauled ashore by hand with sheer brute strength in stifling heat.
For the fishing communities of Tanji, it is an everyday struggle to survive, and the threats multiply every year.
Fishing stocks have plummeted catastrophically in recent years, the result of warming oceans, mass ecocide of fish populations, and the encroachment of overseas supertrawlers, which scoop up much of the remaining fish for export.
He finds that industrial factories are processing fresh fish for fishmeal pellets used in fish farming in Europe and animal feeds elsewhere.
The catastrophic consequences for his fellow fishermen on this coast are immense.
Skilled marine navigators and their boats are setting out for Europe, and Johnny hears how some are never heard from again.
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