Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Programme 1 | Wednesday, 7 June 2023 @ 9.35p.m. | RTÉ One

The RTE documentary series Faraway Fields – The Hardest Harvest returns to our screens this June with well known Kinsale Skipper Johnny Walsh experiencing the daily grind of a West African traditional fisherman

The 1st programme in the series sees Johnny 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 forces them to take perilous sea journeys to escape to Europe and beyond.

Johnny Walsh with Gambian crew

In this programme, the 55-year-old skipper 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 Walsh & crewmember Osman Jei with their catch.

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’s an everyday struggle to survive, and the threats multiply every year.

Speaking to The Skipper, Johnny Walsh said:

It was a humbling and life-changing experience. While West Cork and Tanji are many miles apart, both fishing communities depend on the sea to provide a livelihood and find the future threatened by over exploitation from other nations fishing fleets.”

The grit, hard work and determination of the Gambian fishermen has left a lasting impression on me and i will continue to work with them in highlighting their plight going forward.”


Johnny Walsh fishing with local crew off Tanji, Gambia

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.

Programme 1 | Wednesday, 7 June 2023 @ 9.35p.m. | RTÉ One