Algae fisherman from tradition and passion
Pierre Merdy, who I meet in the port of Le Korejou, is 72, but could go smoothly as a younger one. And this, though, as he admits mockingly, he has just celebrated all weekend long. Whether a life where you get up in the morning around 4 clock and keep working up at night around 12, young?
Pierre is algae fisherman. And he wanted, he makes it clear right from the start, never to become anything else. He was, he says, already born with his feet in the water in a canoe. His father and grandfather were algae fishermen and Pierre has collected algae on the beach before he was able to walk properly.
The largest algae occurrence in Europe
The profession of algae fisherman has a long tradition in Brittany: here in the north of Finistère lies one of the largest algae deposits in Europe. Of the worldwide known 80.000 (estimated 400.000) species of algae only about 160 are used industrially. In the Ecomuseum of Plouguerneau you will learn everything worth knowing about algae processing.
Previously, the algae were collected, dried and burnt in so-called soda ovens. Here they were simple ditches, which were clothed with stones and can still be discovered in the dunes.
The history of the algae industry
The ash served not only as a fertilizer and heating agent, but was also used for the production of gunpowder. At the beginning of 19. In addition, the antiseptic effect of iodine-containing algae was discovered.
Napoleon once built factories in Brittany, in which iodine could be extracted from the leaves. However, 25 tons of collected algae yield just 15 kilo iodine.
From seaweed fisherman to marine diver
In the 50s, the traditional algae industry was in a crisis and Pierre had to look for another job. “I went to sea on a transport ship for five years.
Then I did my military service. Then I went back to the sea. And then ... ”he added with a grin,“ I was a diver in the French Navy for 15 years. ”
The change in the economy opens up new possibilities
But algae fishing did not let go: With 40 he bought his own boat to become algae fishermen again. Today, algae are harvested with the Scoubidou, a propeller crane plucking the water plants from the water. In factories, the algae are then processed into alginates for medicine, naturopathy and food manufacturers.
Pierre has two daughters, two of his four grandchildren are engineers, one is studying medicine - and the smallest is still small and wants to be a helicopter pilot. The family tradition of the algae fishermen will not continue.
A traditional profession that dies out
“There are still algae fishing families - but fewer and fewer,” says Pierre. About 50 algae fishermen are still active. Can he even advise a young person to pursue such a profession?
“It depends”, says Pierre: “I got up at 4 a.m. every morning and was never in bed before 11 or 12 a.m. Sometimes when I drove far I didn't eat or drink anything all day. This video gives an insight into the work:
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Hard bread, but a dream job
An incredibly hard job. ” Still, algae fishing was his absolute dream job, he never wanted to do anything else: "It's a great job, but you have to have it in your blood."
By the way, Pierre's mother tongue is not French, but Breton. It would seem strange to him to talk to the people from his village in French. In Breton, he also spoke to me of his life motto on the recording device: "There is no better way than being at sea!"
Audio podcast on the subject
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