A stormy sea still worries the wives of Essex fishermen. Those married to the professionals keep a weather eye out for their husbands’ safety but the constant everyday fear now is money and the shortage of the means to make it — fish.
Lorraine Davis and trawlerman Steve have two children. The couple have re-mortgaged their home in Matlock Road, Canvey, to buy a new boat but there is little work and Steve does odd jobs to make ends meet. Lorraine said: “The worst thing is that nobody seems to care. We have problems with the Port of London Authority insisting on dredging during the sole spawning season and then we have the added problem of fish supplies being extremely low after the oil spillages last year.”
Spills killed fish and, despite lengthy negotiations with Mobil, no compensation has yet been given to the men who earn their living from the sea.
Lorraine said: “Steve took out an angling party at the end of October, the day after the second spill, and they were so unhappy at getting oil on their clothes that they cancelled their next 11 trips.” Mobil has paid for the boats to be cleaned and loss of earnings while they were out of action, but Lorraine wants compensation for the loss of future income. She said: “They are putting our future at risk with these spillages and what would be a drop in the ocean to them is to us the difference between paying the mortgage and bills or falling into debt.”
Heather Gilson of Undercliffe Gardens, Leigh, also finds the going increasingly tough with Paul working longer hours. She said: “On top of all the time he is having to spend out at sea he is also having to find more time to meet with Mobil and the PLA to try and persuade them to delay the dredging programme.” Spills have also hurt the other Gilson business, a seafront fish stall. Heather said: “Sales fell badly after the spillages because people were worried about fish that had come into contact with the oil and I see their point.”
Worried wife Eileen Chaplin from Canvey has written many times to Mobil asking the company to clean up its act and honour a responsibility to the fishermen whose livelihood she says the company is putting under threat. She said: “Things are not too bad for us because we have no children but my husband works with men no longer earning enough to provide for their families.”
Eileen, angry at what she saw as Mobil’s lack of understanding, said: “They don’t see the problems created by the spillages and some idiot even suggested it might be possible to restock the waters much as you would trout farms.” The lack of good profit-making fish such as sole and sea bass and strict limitations on when they can be fished, mean more fishermen leaving a profession which has been in many families for generations. Eileen said: “The whole ecology of the Thames is being slowly destroyed and although they attempt to clean up the spillages, some of the oil cannot be completely removed from the sea bed and continues to cause a hazard.”
Lorraine said: “Fishing is not an easy living at the best of times, but it seems to me that because of the revenue the big oil companies make, they are allowed to tread all over the fishermen. At the end of the day all our husbands want to do is try and earn a living wage and we just want them to be given the chance to do that.”
Mobil company relations manager David Bailey said: “Dredging is the statutory responsibility of the PLA and we have agreed to buy the dredged sand and gravel for building at our Coryton refinery. As we made clear to the fishermen when we met them that while we are sympathetic to their situation, any delay in receipt of this material could cost us £1 million and we cannot afford that.” Defending its record over oil spillages, Mr Bailey said the company had met all its responsibilities in terms of the clean-up. He added: “Independent experts who examined the area said there was no long term damage to the environment. I am not denying the fishermen are suffering but I am not sure to what extent that can be considered our fault.”