Obituary: John C. Gowie – distant water skipper and fishing journalist

John Gowie lived and breathed the fishing industry and was very proud to have served and contributed on all levels. 

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John C. Gowie, the former technical editor of Scottish Fishing Weekly, sadly passed away recently.

A former fisherman from Aberdeen, his love of fishing and everything related to the industry always shone through, as did his compassion and wonderful sense of humour.

After retiring from sea, he became Scottish Fishing Weekly’s technical editor in 1989. Based in Aberdeen, John covered a wide range within his work.  As well as boat reviews and general reporting from the East Coast, he wrote the popular ‘Gearbox’ column, where he looked at technical issues facing the successful operation of a fishing vessel. He was especially interested in fishing gear and how to maximise catching performance under different sea conditions.

Keith Broomfield, who worked alongside John in the Aberdeen office of Scottish Fishing Weekly (SFW) said: ‘John was in so many ways ahead of his time, being very aware of the importance of sustainability and conservation, and of finding ways to ensure that trawls released juvenile or unwanted fish species. He cared about the industry and its sustainability.’

Born on 2 April 1937, John first went to sea as a deck hand aged 16 on fishing boats working the distant water grounds towards the Arctic, serving on vessels such as Aberdeen Venturer, Japonica, Ben Brackie, and Ben Loyal.  He was quickly recognised for his leadership potential and sound common-sense and worked his way up to skipper boats for the Ben fishing fleet, becoming one of the top skippers of his time.

He was particularly proud of serving on the Ben Asdale, which had developed a formidable reputation as a top fish catcher.

John loved fishing but he never talked much about his time at sea, despite the many adventures and experiences he must have faced in truly challenging conditions. Although, he once let slip in a private conversation that on one occasion he was washed overboard from his vessel in stormy and icy seas, only for the next wave to send him crashing back onto the deck again!

On retiring from sea in the late 1980s, he was the perfect choice for the then fledgling Scottish Fishing Weekly (SFW) newspaper, part of the Oban Times Group, which was based in Oban, to become its east coast correspondent and technical editor, bringing fishing knowledge and experience to the small team of journalists working on the paper at the time.

Davy Shaw, one of the first editors of Scottish Fishing Weekly, said: ‘John was the original salty sea dog, with a world of experience.’

Alison Chadwick, who also became the paper’s editor, along with Finlay Oman and Keith Broomfield who were part of the editorial team, remember him as being generous and kind-hearted, and always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He was a formidable mentor, keen to offer advice and guidance, and quickly pointing out if he felt something was wrong or unfair.

Alison said: ‘I was privileged to work with John on SFW for many years. He was a true Aberdonian – ‘stoic throughout’ and a better colleague and friend you could not have wished to work alongside.

‘John was the first Scottish correspondent based on the East Coast for SFW. From his office on the quayside in Aberdeen he would cast a sharp eye over the comings and goings of the fleet of fishing and commercial boats and many folk called-in to get his ‘craic’ and great sense of humour.

‘‘Fit like? and How’s it going? were his eternal catchphrases – and everyone in the Oban office looked forward to John’s visits from Aberdeen. He entertained the office, regaling everyone with his sense of humour and great company. He was a true character, the like of which we don’t see today. He was highly respected within the industry at all levels.

‘After retiring from SFW, John kept on writing with his popular column Shootin’ the Breeze with Jake Jilsen – borne out of his extensive fishing experience. It was an educational sometimes quizzical look at fishing techniques with John’s inimitable slant overriding everything. He will be much missed across many sectors of life.  For John, the sea was everything.’

Finlay Oman another journalist on the SFW team added: ‘Having been around the West Coast fishing fleet most of my life, exposure to the experiences of John Gowie through the Scottish Fishing Weekly was an eyeopener. A long steam for me was from the Kilbrannan Sound to the Minch, but here was a man who talked of ships and trips to Bear Island in the Barents Sea and weather experienced by no ordinary men.

‘John commanded respect within the industry with his extensive knowledge of fishing gear; knowledge that he was extremely willing to share with the up-and-coming generations. He rubbed shoulders with many of the top North East skippers and was very proud of his friendship with the likes of Terry Taylor, taking great delight in writing the review of each newly built vessel as it was launched.

‘It was always a delight to meet up with John and his wife Sheila at the annual fishing exhibitions in Glasgow and Aberdeen, with many fine tales of his life at sea. He was like a magnet to the East Coast skippers of his generation, bringing many leads to the table.

‘John lived and breathed the fishing industry and was very proud to have served and contributed on all levels.

‘Thankfully, he took the time to write down much of what he had learned at sea, generating a sizeable volume of column inches in the ‘Wee Paper’ and consequentially not everything has been lost in his passing.’

Howard Bennett, managing director of Wyvex Media, which owned SFW, said: ‘My wife Joan and I both valued his work and contribution. We found that his input into our publications was always very sound and his knowledge of the fishing industry was wide ranging. We were very sorry when he retired from the company.’

John was a true Arctic fisherman and the trips he went on were long and arduous – often lasting over three weeks with only three days off at a time, depending on where he was fishing. It was not great for family life, but he made up for this when he was back and latterly in retirement loved to spend time with his family and grandchildren, of whom he was enormously proud.

He and his wife Sheila had five children, 16 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.