Deconstructing the ‘Poor Fisherman’ … Part 3

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If you follow the blog on a regular basis (hi mom!) you know I’ve been venting my spleen the last little bit over the way the general public regards the fishing industry and fishermen in general.

The focus of my rage is the continuing idea of the “poor fisherman” that has permeated the minds of those outside the industry, pretty much since the moratorium was announced in 1992. Not only was that a bleak economic event, but it also created some real social scars as well. We see evidence of those when we hear people talk about fisherman being lazy, uneducated drinkers who work a few weeks of the year and then sit on their arses watching the pogey cheques roll in.

Are there fishermen who abuse the system? You’re damn right there are. I could even name a few of them — slipper skippers, the occasional scoundrel and maybe even a few lazy souls. But show me an industry that doesn’t have a few bad apples.

Amongst fishermen, the bad apples are absolutely the minority — it’s truly disgusting though to see everyone else in the industry made to pay a heavy price for the attitudes and actions of a few jackasses.

The fishermen I know are highly trained, certified professionals in their fields and truly remarkable individuals working in an industry that demands everything mentally and physically at all times. And while they may not be on the water all year, they are working in their business whether it be carrying out maintenance of equipment and vessels, doing training, buying and selling fishing licences, making changes to the business structure of their enterprises, etc.

Fishing is about a LOT more than just catching fish.

And let’s address the employment insurance crap straight on. I’m sorry you don’t like the fact that fishermen collect EI for part of the year but you’re going to have to suck it up, and here’s why: fishing is a seasonal industry. So is construction. So is tourism. So is forestry. So is any other number of important industries that fuel the structure of the country — and you don’t see anyone dumping on them for it.

It’s a shame people don’t understand the industry and its people better. The fishery is the reason we are here, period.

It is incredibly huge, colourful and remarkable part of our culture and heritage and for the most part we ignore it — children don’t get to learn about it or experience any of it first-hand. The only time the industry is mentioned to kids in this province is when it’s part of a warning to steer clear of the business at all costs.

And when those children reach adulthood we don’t do a great job of explaining it all to them. The media doesn’t really care for or cover the fishery the way it used to. There are still a few outlets dedicated to the business (The Navigator, The Fisheries Broadcast, etc.) but it’s a long way from the days when all media outlets had dedicated fish reporters and in-depth programs/features.

The end result is a less-informed public — and that’s a tough thing to overcome for a business as complicated as the fishing industry.

Government also realizes that most of the general public don’t know or care too much about the fishery and they know that gives them carte blanche to do whatever the hell they like without having to worry too much about the repercussions.

And the proof is in the pudding: we are currently looking at the most popular (up until recently anyway) government in our history and they have treated the fishery with as much or more indifference as any.

It hasn’t hurt their election chances though. Hey, if the general voting public cared about the industry there would be no way Clyde Jackman would get re-elected in Burin-Placentia West in the last election. He was an ineffectual fisheries minister on the whole, but also held the reins during a period of absolute devastation with the loss of hundreds of jobs in the processing business right in his own district. And yet, Jackman is still there, still in government, still collecting a sizeable amount of taxpayer cash as an MHA and Minister of the Crown.

Look, the bottom line is this: the fishery and the people in it are absolutely vital to our rural economy; they are stewards of a valuable, renewable resource that will be around long after the last mineral is chipped out of the rocks and after the last drop of oil is squeezed out of the Grand Banks.

There are a lot of good people — and a good few young people despite what you might have heard — working very hard to build something for the future. It will be a different industry than the one we know, and yes there will be uncertainties and challenges, but it’s anything but dead and buried.

Hey, nobody’s asking anyone to worship the people in the business, but just maybe reserving your scorn would be a good place to start. Whenever I hear anyone regale me with a jaded opinion on the business I always respond the same way: “If fishing is such an easy game, why the hell aren’t you doing it? Why aren’t you up at 3 a.m., floating around at sea for days or weeks at a time, worrying about your business, trying to keep the bills paid, all the while providing employment and economic activity in our province?”

The answer is always simple: they aren’t doing it because they wouldn’t be able to.

Best leave that work to the poor fishermen, after all.


Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine,

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