Batter down the hatches as Mersey marks National Fish and Chip Day

About to embark on the training and assessment which determines they’re fit for front-line duties are the men and women of the Navy’s only ‘fishhunter’: HMS Mersey.

Mersey marks National Fish and Chip DayThe patrol ship is half crewed by traditional fishery protection squadron sailors… with the remainder made up of sailors normally assigned to Portsmouth’s flotilla of Hunt-class minehunters… hence the unofficial designation.

The mine crews are helping the ‘Cod Squad’ (officially the oldest formation in the Royal Navy) transition from first to second-generation River-class vessels, taking over from colleagues who’ve gone on to learn how to run HMS Forth, Medway

Having spent the past few months getting used to their new surroundings and different machinery and systems, the final hurdle to overcome is Operational Sea Training – several weeks of assessment where the Navy’s expert trainers determine whether the 40 crew can cope with every eventuality.

The last act of preparing for that rigorous test was a few days in the Channel honing board and search duties.

Among the vessels inspected by boarding officer Lieutenant Adam Williams was the trawler Rubeno, whose nets, catch and logs received a thorough inspection before resuming fishing.

We conduct our inspection trying not to inconvenience the crew – we chat with the master, check his paperwork, then head down to the ‘fish room’ to assess the catch

Lieutenant Adam Williams, Inspection Boarding Officer

Mersey marks National Fish and Chip Day“You start with hailing the vessel over VHF radio, letting them know you’re coming so you can prepare,” he explained.

“We conduct our inspection trying not to inconvenience the crew – we chat with the master, check his paperwork, then head down to the ‘fish room’ to assess the catch, identify the fish and check the nets to make sure they’re the right size.”

Boardings have dropped dramatically in recent years as the squadron makes increasing use of satellite imagery and intelligence to focus its efforts on specific vessels in specific areas; last year 257 fishing boats were inspected by Mersey’s boarding team.

One area where knowledge rather than technology is still key, however, is in fish identification. Boarding officers like Lt Williams are expected to know 54 different varieties of fish on sight.

Before beginning Operational Sea Training (OST), Mersey was the centrepiece (on the South Coast at any rate) for National Fish and Chip Day.

Viewers of BBC 1’s Breakfast programme today may have seen Mersey and her crew talking about their fishery protection work… or tucking into a fish supper (or rather breakfast) courtesy of Long John’s Fish and Chips from Poole who brought their van quayside.