Fishing Lines: Unstoned terns and other whoppers

Drug-running gangs have become very smart. Around the Firth of Lorne and the Sound of Mull is wild, sparsely populated and famed for serious weather: perfect for nefarious deeds. Here's how one scheme works. The drugs are dropped overboard, well wrapped, at a pre-arranged spot. A timer is set on the package, and the exact location is sent to the collector. Thanks to global positioning systems, a boat can be on the spot at the exact time, often weeks later, that the package floats to the surface.

It doesn't always work. As I've said, this is a great place for weather-spotting (including tornadoes). Even trawlers think twice when the wind's whipping up a force 11 or 12. So when one very large haul of cannabis obediently surfaced, nobody was waiting. Caught by fierce tides, the package drifted until it hit land - on a tern sanctuary, where boats and humans are barred.

Terns are curious birds. Attracted by the smell ("Gosh! I feel hungry!"), they tucked in. Before long, they were not flying any more, but walking around in very unternlike fashion. Their strange behaviour worried local bird-watchers, and eventually an official came to investigate. He wrote a report explaining what had happened, which included the memorable line: "The incident has left no tern unstoned."

When you're sitting on a boat waiting for fish to feed (which can be a long process if your quarry is one of Scotland's extra-large predators like porbeagle shark, halibut or skate), you rely on the skipper to keep you amused. And up here in Oban, Adrian Lauder is in the premier division.

I won't go into some of the more grisly stories, like the skipper who found a jacket with an arm (and nothing else) attached. But it was quite spooky, looking at the echo sounder where a strange indentation appeared on the sea bed and learning: "That's probably a submarine. When a nuclear one passes, everything switches off. The GPS won't work, all the electrics go haywire. It's scary when you're way out to sea."

Adrian is convinced that the fish we're after, common skate (though they aren't) grow to more than 500lb. But it was no skate that was hooked one day. The fish (a minke whale?) started pulling his boat uptide, dragging the anchor along too. "I scrambled to cut the anchor rope, but it just came off. Probably a good thing."

He runs regular diving trips too, and was fascinated to hear my crazy theory about great white sharks in Scottish waters. "Of course there are. I've seen a big mako. Why shouldn't there be great whites?"

And what about those big boats, ferrying in and out of Oban harbour? "They work for fish farms, sucking up all the gunge those farms leave on the sea bottom. It kills everything around. Then they dump it farther out to sea. It's supposed to be at least 12 miles away, but you can imagine what happens when they get out of the coastguard's sight..."

Did we catch much? A skate or two did turn up. But we were much too busy listening to stories.

Details of Lauder's boat, Gannet, at www.tsmvgannet.co.uk

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