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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 01:20 GMT
Finding their sea legs offshore
By Jo Irving
BBC News South West

Lindy Hingley
Slapton Sands beach where Lindy Hingley nearly lost her life
Lindy Hingley was four years old when she nearly drowned off the beach at Torcross.

Since then she has always had a great respect for the vast amount of water that surrounds the South West.

Not able to swim well, she might have chosen to put a distance between herself and the ocean.

But instead she has immersed herself in it, leading a campaign to protect the region's whale, dolphin and porpoise population.

"I'm quite frightened of the sea, but it has led me to the animals I love," she said.

Controversial move

As the founder of Brixham Seawatch nearly two decades ago with her then-husband John, skipper of a fishing boat, she has fought tirelessly to stop these animals from being killed.

It was a controversial move which could have seen her fall out with a number of fishermen but she says they have always been very supportive.

"No fisherman wants to kill a dolphin or a whale and the guys that have been doing it just stay quiet, they know what they've been doing, they probably don't enjoy it, but it's a way of life for them."

Fewer different species of dolphins will be seen off the south west

Although she has managed to get confirmation from post mortem tests that many of the thousands of cetaceans - creatures such as whales, porpoises and dolphins - washed up around the South West were killed by bass pair trawlers, she has been unable to get this type of fishing banned entirely.

In December 2004 Defra stopped pelagic pair trawling for bass by UK vessels. It means two trawlers towing a large mesh net between them are not allowed within 12 miles of the south west coast of England.

But Lindy said: "All species are being seriously depleted."

She believes bottle nosed dolphins will become extinct from south west waters within the next five years and said: "We have a group now that's down to five - eight years ago there was 10 or 12."

The industry that Lindy has been involved in for 25 years is a hard one.

Sam Cattell knows only too well what life at sea can be like. At 17 she joined her first beam trawler from south Devon's Brixham harbour.

She spent up to six days at a time at sea towing a cone shaped net along the seabed to catch fish.

For three years she worked alongside the men, hauling up the catch every two-and-a-half hours.

She ate with them and slept in the same cabin as them.

Being out beaming and scalloping, was, she said, the time of her life when she was at her fittest.

She said she would be there still, but things changed when she married her husband and had a family.

"I loved it, but when my son wanted to go to sea I only let him go with his father," she said.

Trawler photo by Kim Bowden
Some say the fishing industry faces a bleak future

"He did four trips and that was enough to put him off."

And Sam is in the same boat as Lindy in that she is also not a very good swimmer.

"I can only swim a length, so getting caught in a force nine gale was pretty scary."

"I swore then I wouldn't go back to sea, but I did."

Sometimes wives and girlfriends were jealous about her spending so much time at sea with the fishermen, and the men can be superstitious about women at sea too. But her capability at the job meant she was in demand.

Times have changed and she is now married with four children and views the future of the fishing industry as bleak.

She said: "I can see it going back to small boats again - day haulers.

"But I don't think it's a life for anybody, there's no money in it anymore."

"I just wanted to prove a point that a woman can do the job."

Women and the Sea is a series of features by BBC News Interactive South West which will be appearing on the BBC news website all this week.

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