For many of the whitefish fleet working out of Urk in Holland, flatfish,
and plaice in particular is the staple diet and target species and therefore, it is vital to have the gear fishing tight to the seabed – often achieved with specialised trawls, doors and sensor systems.
Built in 1982 as the 40m beamer / herring trawler Branding III (TX-38), the now re-christened Eben Haezer was bought by Jacob Kramer and his Island Fishing company in 1999 and, in 2006, was converted to become a dedicated twin-rig trawler.
The vessel is powered by a Caterpillar 3606 main engine installed in 1995, but which has been de-rated from its original 1,471kW power by approximately 40% due to the reduced power, and reduced fuel consumption, as a result of changing fishing methods over from beam trawling to twin rig fishing.
Carrying a UK registration (Grimsby – GY-57), Jacob Kraemer explains that, as well as Dutch registered, most of the Urk vessels that work in the southern edge of the North Sea and generally in the area between Holland, Denmark, Norway and the UK, are flagged in the countries of UK, Germany, Belgium and Denmark but that all of these vessels are operated by citizens of Holland.
The registered owners of Jacob Kraemer’s Eben Haezer is the Island Fishing company which was established in 1991.
“At that time in Holland the plaice quota was extremely low and on the other hand 50% of the quota was not fished in the UK,” said Jacob – “so we bought a British license and formed the Island (island Urk) Fishing co Ltd.
“Over the years we bought more and more quota so now we can fish as much as we need to,” he added.
In the case of the impressive-looking Eben Haezer, the main target during their five-day trips at sea is plaice, which are sought after on the productive fishing grounds of the Dogger Bank and the North Sea.
After some troublesome times with the plaice stock levels of less than a decade ago, Jacob Kramer is pleased that this stock seems now to be in an excellent state.
“Last year, for example, all the boats working plaice enjoyed good catches for the whole season and yet only 70% of the overall quota was caught,” said Jacob in a statement that will make many fishermen of other whitefish species more than a little jealous.
It is refreshing to hear of a stock in such abundance and recognised by allocating a quota reflecting this, compared to the frustrations of many EU fishermen who see the stocks of several species in major abundance and yet cannot get the EU Commission to revise a paltry quota.
Urk is a village in the middle of the Netherlands which was an island until the 1950s and, for over 1,000 years, the people who lived there were mostly dependent for their income from the sea.
“But now that the vessels are bigger it’s hard for them to come into Urk due to the shallow locks, so the fleet, including ourselves, generally lands in harbours around the Dutch coast — mainly in Harlingen,” Jacob said, adding that, up to 25 years ago, there were around 150 beam trawlers as well as some smaller sized trawlers from Urk but that, because of EU vessel decommissioning schemes, the present-day fleet is less than half of its original size.
Despite this, and although Urk is geographically located in the middle of the Netherlands, this port is home to the majority of Holland’s national fish processing industry – providing employment to over 60% of the Urk population.
Almost all of the Urk fleet, regardless of vessel type and size, do their fishing trips between Sunday night and Friday or Saturday as, for religious reasons they try to be at home every Sunday.
“This is good for every aspect of our lives as the fishing grounds have a few days of rest and the fishermen have a few days of rest at home with their families,” Jacob Kraemer said.
“We hope it will stay like this for a long time to come but it is slowly changing as it has done everywhere else — some people seem to not like days off…..”