Back in July I had the privilege of attending a political announcement for my job. Political speeches are nothing new, and often don’t say anything new. This one was different. In it, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc announced the government’s intent to enshrine the owner operator policy into the Fisheries Act. For fishermen, it means that the license holder owns and operates the boat; he (or she) is independent and not following the direction or control of someone else. For coastal communities in rural Canada, it means that the beneficial interest from the fishery flows from fishermen to the communities they live in. It’s something inshore fishermen have been fighting to maintain for decades, but particularly for the last five years when a Department of Fisheries and Oceans policy paper on “Modernizing the Fishery” omitted any mention of the owner operator policy. The fight has been long and the stakes are high. For many communities (like mine) fishery after fishery has become corporatized and those fishing boats, jobs, and money have left our island. Watching the corporate creep into the lobster fishery is like living the fishing version of Groundhog Day.
That’s why that July afternoon when the announcement was made, I freely admitted I got a little teary eyed. When I looked around the room full of burly fishermen and jaded industry reps, I wasn’t the only one. It was kind of a big deal, and we all knew it was. For that moment in time, there was a ray of hope against a backdrop of bureaucratic molasses climbing up a hill.
There’s been fear mongering from the other side about decreased license values and government taking licenses. It’s meant to distract and divert attention by people who have the most to gain from losing the owner operator policy. It’s a political tactic we’ve seen play out far too often on far bigger stages. I think fishermen are smarter than that. I think they’ve watched fleets and opportunities disappear from their wharves and they don’t want to lose any more. I think communities understand that if they want to maintain the way of life that they’ve had for generations, they need to make sure there is an opportunity for young people to enter the fishery as independent business owners, not as a paid per hour labourer for a corporate interest.
I think this because as the industry reps left the announcement in July and went home, we started having a similar experience. We were approached repeatedly in groceries stores, at the dentist, in the bank, at the wharf by different people with the same questions:
“Do you think they’re really going to fix owner operator?”
Do you think I’ll really be able to have my own boat and licence?”
That ray of hope I thought I’d glimpsed in other red rimmed eyes in Chester has spread. It’s an important fight; an important discussion. Too important to be distracted. Too important to lose.
Stay the course.
I think the last time I went whale watching was 15 years ago. Like back then I took way too many pictures, but now I can easily sort through the ones that include my finger instead of waiting for the film to be developed.
Last weekend I happened upon some old photos in a drawer. Despite my best intentions, they never seemed to make it to a photo album. One of the envelopes was from a Sunday afternoon in the mid 1990s that was spent at my father’s herring weir.
Herring weirs (sounds like “where”) are one of the oldest fishing gear types (it pre-dates Canadian Confederation in 1867). They are built in the shape of a heart, traditionally near the shore, with large wooden poles (stakes) surrounded by twine. Fishermen then wait for the herring to come inshore, swim along the net into the weir and become trapped, unable to find the way out. Fishermen then go with another net to “scoop” the fish out into a boat to be taken to be canned as sardines.
This day was a sparkling day on the Bay of Fundy. My grandfather’s health was beginning to fail, but he continued to go with my father to enjoy the process and help where he could. My mother, father, and brother were all there to work. My sisters, a couple of friends, and I were along as “tourists”. The photos from that day tell the tale – it was a magical, classic day on the Bay. *
Going around Swallowtail
Grampy tending lines
Continue reading “Where Have the Weirs Gone?”
I’ve made a couple trips off island this week in a small charter plane. It’s always so cool to see things with a (literally) different perspective. It also coincided with the opening day of scallop season, so there was lots of activity on the water. It’s hard to capture with my iPhone camera, but these are a few of my favourite shots.
Lights from boats fishing scallops
The island at dusk.
Ingalls Head harbour
Opening day of scallop season
White Head Island
Lobster fishing season doesn’t end with as much fan fare as it opens, but it is met with a different kind of excitement: traps come out of the water to be overhauled; trucks and trailers laden with them line the wharves and roads. The day that started grey and overcast brightened by the end but still with a nip in the air: the perfect weather to end the season and mark an unofficial beginning of summer.
June 8 is World Oceans Day. As I saw post after post today, I kept thinking that I should post something as well; after all, the ocean is kind of a big deal around here.
But in reading the posts, I struggled with what to say because I realized my perspective on the ocean is maybe a bit different than many people’s. Not that I don’t think it’s amazing, because it is, but maybe because I see the ocean daily it’s a bit more personal for me. The ocean isn’t an abstract concept you see on vacation. It’s a fact of daily life. Our weather is tempered by the Bay (not that you could tell this winter). Our basic transportation is dependent on it. Events are planned based on tides and fishing. The ocean is the prevalent and dominant factor of island life.
I think it’s the abundance of the Bay of Fundy that sometimes makes it challenging to relate to posts about barren oceans. While there have certainly been changes in the ocean in recent years, we are fortunate to still have a robust and prosperous fishery. Our little corner of the world was born of small boat fisheries captained by their owners and they have been the backbone of rural coastal communities in Atlantic Canada. These enterprises were generally licensed for multiple species, allowing fishermen to fish for what species was abundant in any given year. It worked remarkably well: without myriads of scientific research to back up quotas or management decisions, fishermen simply fished for what was available. As a stock went through a down cycle, a different fishery was pursued. (Not all species can be in high abundance at the same time). Fishermen were driven to protect the ocean by one common denominator: it was a good way of life and they wanted it to be available for their children.
As time went on, government policy subtly shifted year after year. Fish quotas are easier to manage than independent fishermen; corporate consolidation followed in fishery after fishery. If you don’t live here or work here your incentive to make sure it still will be here is greatly reduced. Small boat fisheries are clinging to the stocks, licenses, and management styles they have left. It still is a good way of life and I hope it will be available for generations to come.
Sometimes bigger isn’t always better.
But for now, I continue to enjoy the ocean lapping at our shores. I will marvel at the beautiful sunrises over the water. I will stop and watch through the kitchen window as ducks and gulls dive for their meals. I will enjoy the wonder of the kids as they show their discoveries of crabs and clams on the beach.
Happy Oceans Day.
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly ocean.” — Arthur C. Clarke