Taking the backache out of whelkingClean whelks emerging from the riddle on Wicki-Alex’s deck

Wicki-Alex H-410 and skipper Thomas Jensen work from Hundested in Denmark, fishing strings of traps to catch whelks (Buccinum undatum) that are packed for markets in France, China and South-East Asia.

A local EMFF-funded project with consultancy company Aquamind brought together Wicki-Alex and a local metal fabricator to take a new look at the boat’s deck layout to develop a handling system for the whelk pots that eliminates the usual heavy lifting. This project’s aims were to prioritise the crew’s health and well-being, so that the fishery would still be an attractive workplace ten years from now.

As well as fishing for whelk, brown crab and lobster with pots, Wicki-Alex also fishes for sole and cod with gillnets, but whelking has become a steadily larger part of the boat’s activities as fish prices have fluctuated.This year skipper Thomas Jensen hopes to catch around 200 tonnes of whelk – something he expects will be easier now.

“This is simply not comparable to the way we worked before. Mechanisation means that the crew can work the entire day without being exhausted. No-one is worn out. It was also more dangerous before, but now the pots just land on the table, without bouncing around,” he said.

The deck layout has been developed by Thomas Jensen and Aquamind, which specialises in solutions for fishing vessels. The system involves line guides and a new placement of the winch to eliminate lifting the pots. The sorting table and the washing machine are integrated, taking the catch away from the sorting area, while cleaning off barnacles, algae and sand.

“In efficiency terms, we are not fishing faster than before but with the washing machine we are getting a better product and we can work for much longer. Before we had to stop because the crew were tired out. Now we can just go on and on,” Thomas Jensen said.
The payback time for such a system is around one year at pre-corona prices, and data over the last two years shows that there is a 5% increase in the number of pots handled since the installation, which corresponds to a 7% increase in earnings per trip.

He commented that fishing with pots is sustainable and can be lucrative, but it is a hard physical job and often the crews’ backs, hands and fingers are injured when the heavy pots are moved around the deck – and the image the fishery has is believed to be discouraging interested fishermen. So the this project could convince fishermen that fishing with pots can be done without the physical wear and tear that comes from endless heavy lifting.

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