Contrasting Lives: Fishermen

Andy Giles, a fisherman from Cornwall, went to Sierra Leone to live and work in a small village where the whole community survives on what the fishermen catch each day.

Andy left his high tech trawler behind and went back to basics, learning to fish with a dugout canoe made from a tree. He stayed with Ishmael and Kabba Kaine, two cousins who took him out in their handmade boat. Every day they risk their lives to cross the dangerous breakers to areas where there should be plenty of fish.

However, because the government is unable to police its coastal waters successfully, foreign trawlers regularly sneak in at night and plunder the sea of fish. This means that Ishmael, Kabba and the other villagers often return empty handed and the community doesn’t eat. It’s a precarious existence.

Andy knows that although he, Kabba and Ishmael are all fishermen, their lives are starkly different. Even on a really bad fishing day, he and his family would never go hungry.

Andy Giles

Age: 40

Location: Looe, Cornwall.

Salary: A trawler man can earn between £10,000 and £100,000 per year, depending on how good the fishing is, the type of boat they have and the area in which they fish.

Typical working day:

Andy usually works 18-hour days. These start at around 3.00am when he leaves home. He generally returns by about 9.00pm. In the time he’s away, only about 9 or 10 hours are actually spent fishing.


Andy has a state of the art 15-metre twin rig steel trawler. It’s equipped with a 400hp main engine, a 10 ton four-barrel winch, and a 3x8 ton net drum.

You might not know:

France owns more fishing quota in our waters than we do.

What Andy loves and hates about his job:

Andy loves the unpredictability – the fact that he never knows what he’s going to catch. There’s always the dream of going home with a boat full of sea bass worth £20,000. He also loves the freedom of not being told what to do - at least until he gets home. But he dreads the alarm clock going off at 3.00am, and that he misses out on so much of his children's day to day lives.

Andy’s best and worst days on the job:

For Andy, the best days are when it’s flat calm and he hauls in a massive catch of fish. The worst are when the weather is stormy and the nets rip up – that means there’s no fish, and the day ends up being a waste of fishing and fuel.

Kabba & Ishmael Kaine

Age: Kabba is 50 and Ishmael is 31.

Location: Mania Village, Sherbro Island, Sierra Leone.

Salary: Together, Kabba and Ishmael make about 3,000,000 leones (£430) a year, or £215 each. This works out to about £18 a month.

Typical working day:

Kabba and Ishmael get up at about 3.00am and go fishing in the inshore area. They return for a break of about 3 hours, for some breakfast and a rest. Then they set their nets to go out through the breakers. They’re generally out at sea for between 4 and 5 hours. When they return to shore, they repair their nets and boats. In the evening they fish for bait fish, or return to the inshore area again.


They have a dugout canoe (which they made themselves), some paddles, some nets, and sometimes they also take a hook and line. Their sail is made from scraps of cloth, plastic and an umbrella.

You might not know:

Kabba and Ishmael have to build a new dugout canoe every year. Also, when there is poor catch and they don’t have much fish, the women leave them - and they don't come back until their partners manage to catch some fish.

What Kabba and Ishmael love and hate about their job:

Kabba and Ishmael love it when they catch some fish – it’s as simple as that – and hate it when they don’t because that means everyone goes hungry and they have no money (and no women).

Kabba and Ishmael’s best and worst days on the job:

The best days are when they have a big catch of 'whiting', because they can sell both the flesh and the swim bladder to the Chinese traders for lots of cash. The worst days are when they spend hours at sea and don't catch any fish at all.