Skip to content

Inside Hull super-trawler Kirkella as it faces an uncertain future

It catches around one 10th all cod and haddock eaten in the UK and boasts a fully equipped gym, a sauna and a cinema. But despite its state-of-the-art features, Hull’s super-trawler Kirkella is facing more uncertainty after confirmation of new cod quotas for the distant waters it currently fishes in.

Most of the cod and haddock supplied to the UK’s fish and chip shops are caught in what are known as the Northern External Zone, an area lying between Norway and Greenland. Under the quota system, the Hull-registered fishing trawler needs access to quotas from Norway, Svalbard, the Fare Islands, Greenland and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization to continue fishing.

However, last year following Brexit, the UK distant water fleet saw a reduction in its quota while Norwegian imports into the UK increased. Now new distant waters cod quotas have been confirmed for 2022 after negotiations between the UK, the European Union and Norway. The result is that the UK has been allocated only 500 tonnes of cod in Norwegian waters and 6,500 tonnes around Svalbard. In addition, the UK has no quota at all in Greenland.

Read more: The story of the Triple Trawler Tragedy and Hull’s Headscarf Revolutionaries

Overall, the Kirkella’s owners, UK Fisheries Ltd, say the total cod quota of 7,000 tonnes compares to a total of 19,500 tonnes in 2018. It added: “The government has failed the UK whitefish fleet.

“If the UK is serious about preserving the final remnant of its once-proud distant waters fleet, there are still acts it can take immediately, including the deploying the UK’s trade clout to persuade the Norwegians to offer the UK a sensibel amount of Northern External Zone on top of the separate Svalbard cod, with trade as a quid pro quo in next year’s negotiations starting this autumn.”



The trawl nets on the Kirkella

First registered in 2018, the state-of-the-art trawler recently returned to her home port after a trip to Svalbard. Bethered in King George Dock, I was invited to join Hull’s Lord Mayor Councilor Lynn Petrini on a tour of the vessel starting in the crew accommodation area which could have doubled as an upmarket hotel.

A fully-equipped gym, a sauna and cinema were probably unthinkable luxuries for the men who sailed on the first Kirkella which was built in 1936 at a cost of £15,950. The seventh trawler to bear the same name cost £52m, is twice the size of the original and carries a 34-strong crew who have radio mics in their compulsory safety helmets and internally-heated lockers to dry their clothes.

A typical trip for the modern day Kirkella is 50 days, including five days getting there and five days sailing home. When it reaches the fishing grounds, it’s a 24/7 round-the-clock operation.

Our guide is Dean Jackson, the Kirkella’s new first mate having succeeded the now-retired Charlie Waddy. He shows me a typical two-berth cabin and points at the wall-mounted TV screen. and an ensuite shower. “We certainly didn’t have them when I first started. on trawlers. A lot has changed in those 37 years.”

Dean explains the cabins are usually only occupied by one crew member at a time. There’s a swap over at the end of each eight-hour shift – another far cry from his early days at sea when trawlermen worked straight 18-hour shifts before six hours’ off.

We descended on to the factory deck, a sprawling space filled with stainless steel of every conceivable shape and size, snaking conveyor systems and blinking computer monitors. Here fish are fileted, frozen and packaged in a highly automated process with nothing going to waste.



First mate Dean Jackson on the factory deck of the Kirkella
First mate Dean Jackson on the factory deck of the Kirkella

Removed guts, skins and heads are stored separately and processed into fishmeal for use in animal feeds and fertislier products. “We don’t get many seagulls following us these days,” says Dean.

I’m shown an X-ray machine which scans fillets for tiny fragments of lingering bone which still require removal before we peer inside the factory deck’s “hotel” – a racked storage unit where the processed fillets are held in a deep freeze for 24 hours before being boxed, palleted and sent into a cold store on the deck below.

Despite being empty, it’s easy to imagine how noisy the factory deck must be during a trip with machinery as far as the eye can see. Add rolling seas and bitterly cold temperatures into the mix and it’s a million miles away from any land-based factory that I’ve ever seen.

Dean pulls out his phone and shows me a photograph of a plastic bucket covered in ice and then points to the spot on the factory deck floor where the bucket had been standing when he took the snap during the last trip to sea when the air temperature was minus 18 degrees celcius out on the upper deck.

The engine room is another mass of machinery with a six cylinder Rolls Royce main engine sitting snugly in the middle. In an adjacent room, the chief engineer’s station looks like something from a science-fiction film or a NASA space control center.

Down another flight of stairs, the cargo deck is another eye-opener. It’s easily big enough to host a couple of basketball pitches and the empty space make a couple of idle forklift vehicles seem tiny by comparison. From here, the pre-wrapped pallets of fish are transferred straight onto waiting lorries on the dockside and dispatched to fish markets around the UK.



Part of the vast cargo deck on the super-trawler Kirkella
Part of the vast cargo deck on the super-trawler Kirkella

Finally, we climb back up onto the deck to see the nets, the huge trawling gear and the ship’s two towering deck cranes. There’s so much to take in, I feel the need for a second tour next time she’s back in Hull just to see if I’ve missed anything.

Dean believes the Kirkella has a future despite the current quota deals which have reduced its ability to fish and forced its owners to lay men off. “We need to find a way forward because the is plenty of fish for everyone. At the moment it feels like we’ve got one hand tied behind our back for no good reason,” he said.

Hull East MP Karl Turner said: “Our city has a proud maritime history but the future for its distant fleet fishing looks uncertain because of the failure of the government to negotiate an adequate fish quota. The government must step up and act before it is too beats.”

Readmore:

.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.