Deconstructing the ‘Poor Fisherman’… Part 2

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It’s a term that is heard often in Newfoundland and Labrador, and usually spoken with the same amount of snorting disgust as any racially insensitive term would be: “Poor Fisherman.”

It’s a dismissive term created to mock people who fish for a living.

It refers to the idea of a lazy, uneducated person who fishes for a few weeks to “get their stamps topped up,” then toddles off for the rest of the year drinking beer, riding ATVs and snowmobiles, driving around in big pick-up trucks, and collecting pogey (Employment Insurance) with a reckless and lustful abandon.

Of course, it’s a load of horses—t — but then so are most stereotypes predicated on people’s ignorance and self loathing.

So just where the hell did it come from then? Truthfully, there has always been a hint of disdain for fishermen amongst the non-fishing types, but it really got ramped up after the 1992 Moratorium. At that time, the airwaves and print media were loaded down with fish stories, tales of woe and disaster, pictures of crying and emotional plant workers and harvesters. It was devastating.

Then came programs like TAGS and NCARP which were geared to help the industry and its people transition, but ended up being a lightning rod of hate for those outside the industry. Suddenly, the image of an upset plant worker or fishermen got rightly or wrongly coupled with free education, government funded welfare and $50,000 pick-up trucks.

So we had fishing industry over-exposure, coupled with the general vibe that the people in the industry were getting a free taxpayer funded ride up on the pig’s back.

Hence, the “Poor Fisherman” went from an occasional hinted slander to an almost universal label.

Unfortunately, while time heals all wounds, time hasn’t had a lot of success wiping away the stench of the poor fisherman stereotype.

In fact, if anything, it’s only gotten worse. The industry has been literally revolutionized in the past 20 years, but the education of people about it — and its importance to the provincial and national economies and culture — has remained stagnant.

The fishery has become a professional business, run by certified and trained professional people. Each fishing enterprise is really a small business with all the same headaches and challenges as any small business — except that this business gets carried out while bobbing around on the unforgiving North Atlantic.

Fisherman have to be experts in so many areas — they need to accountants, lawyers, IT providers, navigators, mechanics, scientists, equipment maintenance people, safety watchdogs, and, oh yeah, they need to be able to know how and where to catch fish — and they have to be successful in all areas or their family business, and maybe even lives, can be lost in the process.

They are providing economic activity in coastal communities and they are helping to produce sustainable, healthy fish food products for a growing global population — in the face of all kinds of uncertainty from various economic situations, right down to the weather that day.

They are harvesting a resource that is absolutely renewable, and one that is stemmed so deep in our culture and heritage that ignoring or dismissing it is akin to demolishing Jellybean Row, blasting the rock off Signal Hill, putting box stores in Gros Morne, turning off the water in the Mighty Churchill (Grand) River (oh wait, we’re doing that anyway, right?) and taking a piss in Father Duffy’s Well.

Poor Fisherman?

I say poor us for not realizing their importance.

Just for the hell of it, in the next blog, I think I’ll just take a few jabs at how it got this way, and what needs to happen to turn the stereotype around — starting with fishermen themselves.

Leave it to me to take a good rant a turn it into a three part venting exercise.

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine,

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