Gone Fishing (with Insurance!) – big game fishing, big-time risks

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Gone Fishing (with Insurance!) – big game fishing, big-time risks

Fishing insurance

Considering I’ve spent 52 years in insurance, many consider me to an authority on the subject, but I actually have more experience in fishing than insurance.

You might be wondering why I’m combining these seemingly contradictory subjects, but wherever you find danger, you’ll find a need for insurance, and during my 65 years of fishing adventures, I’ve found that out the hard way!

The risk of drowning, hypothermia, and unintentionally pierced ears

The fishing that I did aged 5 was for small fish in local ponds, lakes, canals and rivers around my home city of Sheffield in the UK. But there was one very obvious risk. I had only just learnt to swim. This was essential for me, because I fell in regularly. In fact the Sheffield Canal back then had hardly any fish, so I used to ‘fall in’ regularly in order to kill the boredom.

When I graduated to going fishing without an adult, it became more dangerous.

When I was aged 11, my barbed hook lodged in a friend’s ear whilst I was casting out my line. The hook firmly lodged in the painful part of the ear, not the lobe. The nylon line had also slashed his face quite deeply. We took him to a nearby maternity clinic where they gently yanked the hook out with forceps. Luckily they didn’t charge us. We had no money, and of course, no insurance either.

Around age 13, I was sitting on my fishing box on the ferry at Southerby Lincolnshire on the River Witham. I got up suddenly to grab my rod, but grabbed my friend’s boot instead and pulled us both in with our boxes and the two rods. I recovered all the tackle plus my friend but we had to fish all day (in the October winter) with sopping wet clothes. On the bright side, we didn’t drown, and in fact my mum insisted I have three days off school because of shock and hyperthermia.

I was about to tackle much larger challenges in dangerous waters, but my formative years had given me an idea of how quickly (and badly) things can go wrong. As the fish got bigger, the tackle got more expensive, and the risk of bodily harm (or death) increased.

Hard to tackle – a very expensive sport

Beyond the risk to third parties, fishing is a very expensive pastime. As a kid, my parents could barely afford to indulge me so as soon as I could, I started a paper run delivering newspapers and magazines (and cigarettes) for the local newsagent. In this way I got pocket money to feed my fishing habit.

As I got older I spent more and more on traveling outside the UK and on evermore complicated “high tech” tackle. Here in Cambodia I have a whole room devoted to fishing rods (over 50), reels, nets, gear, lures and tackle. It’s more than enough to open a shop, which my wife frequently (and a little unfairly, I feel) points out.

Two important types of fishing insurance

  • Third party liability insurance (golf balls can kill or injure, so can fishing tackle)
  • Expensive tackle or kit can be insured on an “all risks” basis with an annual premium of around 1% on value (e.g. for US$20,000 at 1% rate = $200 per annum premium

Big game fishing = big risk

Queen Fish - Indonesia

Queen Fish – Indonesia

Big fish are dangerous. Many have sharp teeth or sharp spines. The bigger ones can break a limb with one whack of a tail or head butt with a snout. For that reason, I’ve insured my increasingly adventurous fishing expeditions in South-East Asia.

At age 40 I caught a medium sized Queen fish on a flimsy wooden boat in Indonesia. You can see the sharp spines on the tail of the fish. What you can’t see is my left hand bleeding with multiple lacerations. Also the boat was dangerous. In addition to insurance, I also bought another outboard engine to take with me on every trip so we had a back up motor – I call this ‘belt and braces’ protection.

107 kg Striped Marlin - New Zealand

107 kg Striped Marlin – New Zealand

The biggest fish I’ve caught was a Striped Marlin in New Zealand. The fishing expedition was my 50th birthday present from my wife, who accompanied me on the charter trip aboard the Lady Doreen. This is a recently refurbished, famous fishing boat, once chartered by the late Zane Gray the famous ‘western’ author and a keen big game sports fisherman. The boat was insured for third party and passenger liability, in case I got pulled out of the fighting chair, plus I took along my usual accident and health insurance.

80 kg Arapaima - Thailand

80 kg Arapaima – Thailand

The Arapaima caught in a lake in Thailand was also a present (my 60th birthday). This was a great catch. It fought for almost two hours on very light gear. It was nighttime before it was landed. This fish has rock-hard scales, head and tail. In fact one of these fish had badly injured one of the guides a few months earlier. He got a broken knee from being whacked by it’s tail. Of course he was insured for his medical bills.

Red-Tailed Catfish - Thailand

Red-Tailed Catfish – Thailand

The yellow tail cat fish was caught in Thailand, around my 65th birthday. Really strong fighters, these fish have long sharp spines sticking out from their gill – rakers. Very painful if they get you and they mostly turn septic from the poison in them. I’ve been stabbed a few times.

85 kg Chao Praya Catfish

85 kg Chao Praya Catfish

The final big catch, a Chao Praya Cat fish, was last year around my 69th birthday in January. At 85kg it fought even harder than the Arapaima. I thought I would never get it in to land it. I was completely exhausted. Then that lift! I took the strain in my arms with my guide shouting “don’t drop it, Jeff! Mind the spines! Don’t let it whack you!”. I dropped it seconds after this photo.

Thankfully it swam off without incident, other than looking grumpy.

At the end of last year I broke my left arm and shoulder quite badly and my doctor advised against fishing for at least one year. So next January I’m after an Alligator GAR – they grow to over 100kg and at that size they are more alligator than GAR. Watch this space.

Commercial Fishing Insurance

All of these pictures of big fish bring me neatly to the real purpose of this blog – commercial fishing, which is acknowledged to be one of the most dangerous of all occupations – especially in the oceans of the world.

Most of us have seen TV programs like Wicked Tuna that illustrate just how dangerous it is to earn a living fishing.


  • Crab fishing in the Barents Sea
  • North Sea and North Atlantic Trawling for cod, ling, haddock etc.
  • Huge Bluefin Tuna fishing in North American Waters

Commercial fisherman risk their lives in these treacherous waters, living for many months at sea. They certainly do need insurances above and beyond that of the average sports fisherman like me.

Even in this part of the Tropics, the seas can be very dangerous, especially during the Monsoon Seasons.

Many of the fishing fleets in this part of Asia are wooden vessels – sturdily built but with not so many safety features and relative luxury of the Steel Hull vessels and usually also without the sophisticated communications equipment either.

All of these vessels, steel or wood, can be insured, but at a price! We can insure the hulls, the machinery, the crews, the third party liability, including collision. We can insure their “Mother Ships” – the floating refrigeration units that often staying out many months at sea before returning to their processing and canning factories.

People & Partners can insure ‘the catch’ itself against failure of these refrigeration units. We can and do insure the processing factories on land in the ports.

Underwriting needs to done carefully. 20 years ago in Indonesia, we had a number of wooden ships ‘sinking’ and ‘disappearing’, only to be seen the following year with a new name painted on the prow!

Jeffrey James Whittaker has spent 52 years in high-profile roles in the UK, Africa, Australia and South-East Asia, working on many ‘Mega Projects’ in sectors such as transport, dams and oil & gas. He is currently CEO of People and Partners Insurance PLC, and Vice Chairman of the Insurance Association of Cambodia (IAC). When Jeff isn’t working with insurance organisations, he enjoys big game fishing, cooking and singing.


  1. Ste says:

    we fish out of Sihanoukville some nice fish out there

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