Captain George Needs an App

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A couple of days ago I snarked up on the changes that DFO are driving down the throats of the fishing industry this year and the effect it could have.

It occurred to me that the move to change over all the licencing services for DFO to an online system instead of having counter service at offices around the province was one that was particularly fraught with peril.

An article I wrote late in 2012 puts it in perspective so I thought I’d share it here:


Captain George (not his real name) is 61 years old and has been fishing for a living since he was still in short pants.

George is a simple fellow, really. He and his missus have been married just over 40 years, and they’ve got two boys, both of whom are tradesman earning good coin in Alberta.

Life is pretty straightforward. He fishes in season, he hunts, spends a bit of time at the small cabin he built a few years back “up in the country” with the missus or a few buddies, he cuts his own wood, and he even strums a bit of guitar now and again when the mood strikes him.

“None of that old bang-bang-bang crap music you youngsters are listening too though,” he says shaking his head.

George isn’t a big drinker but he likes the occasional snort of whiskey as long as the missus doesn’t know — she gives him a hard time about it because it gives him a bad stomach (hence the need to protect his real name).

He mostly drinks the odd cold beer when he’s not working or busy. He wishes he could quit smoking, but says he’s down to “two or three a day” at the moment and he’ off the hand-rolled “lickie” cigarettes and smoking filtered ones instead.

“Don’t know why I smokes ‘em though — sure I can’t get nedder draw out of it,” he complains with a dismissive “harrumph.”

George isn’t much for technology.

He’s no idiot mind you. He has all the latest gear on his longliner from sounders to radar and he is an excellent skipper who knows how to use all of the vessel’s equipment extremely well. He has a cell phone too — nothing fancy, just a regular flip phone but he got his first text not long ago. It was from his son in Alberta and simply said “let me know if you got this dad.”

George didn’t text back. He just called him: “Why the hell would I fiddle around trying to type a message to him on a little phone? I can’t spell worth a (expletive) anyway,” he says with a chuckle.

George has a new problem now though.

It seems he’s going to have to get more computer literate, real fast and quick.

By April of next year, all fish licensing services for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are being switched to an online system. That means George won’t be able to just drop by the DFO office to get his fishing licences renewed or to talk to the people there about what’s new, what’s happening and what to look for in the rules for the coming season.

The counter service — one George has used for years — is being shut down by the federal government. After April 2013 he’ll need to make an appointment to talk to anyone.

“Nobody told me nothing about it,” George says. “That’s the bloody feds for you. Sure half the fellows down here don’t even know this is coming.”

George is ahead of the game though. He bought a new computer last week. Cost him $1,000, plus the installation. No high speed connection for George though — his area only has dial up internet at the moment.

“I clicks the pointed on what I’m supposed to and the computer starts boinging and popping and cracking like a radio off the station, and when that stops I can go into the internet,” he says with a hint of accomplishment in his voice. “Takes a while to get to the right place there but I had the neighbour’s young feller come over and show me how to find it. He’s a smart little bugger. I told him I’d give him $5 if he’s look after getting my licences for me — or what is it they say, ‘downloaded’ right?”

George will miss the counter service he has grown so accustomed to.

“There’s nothing like being able to walk in and ask somebody a question, face to face, and get a straight answer,” he says as he points his finger into the table to emphasize his point. “Any time I got a question, all I got to do is drop in there when I’m up that way and go see Bob (not HIS real name) and he helps me figure it out. It’s not just about getting your licence, you know, there’s always a question, always something new coming up, always something we needs to figure out.”

Thanks to the cutbacks at DFO (which are being laughably framed as being a major improvement and upgrade to the system) George will now get the bulk of his fishing information from a dial-up internet connection, acquired using the expert services of a 13-year-old boy.

And not only that, but fishermen like George are now also going to be picking up the full cost for things like logbooks, gear tags/tabs and even fisheries observers. Not to mention how the vessel inspection fees are going to go up significantly for folks like George thanks to a few bureaucratic tweaks at Transport Canada.

“The feds don’t want to spend any money in the fishery, but I guess they’ll still want their cut out of us fishermen when tax time rolls around though,” he says through gritted teeth. “And I guess they’ll want their big chunk of taxes that I pay on my fuel, gear, and anything else I need to run my boat too.”

George has another problem too.

He’s not alone.

In fact there are thousands like him.

Seems 2013 could be an interesting fishing season.

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine,

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