Video aims to lure new blood to the fishery

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Features a Petty Harbour fisherman who loves his work

Todd Chafe, a fisherman from Petty Harbour, says of his profession, “We got to get the quality up. We should be making a lot more money than what we’re making.” — Submitted photo

It starts with a crab’s eye view of being hauled up from the depths in a trap over the gunwales of a boat.

That’s the tough life of a crab, but this is the story of a fisherman.

Todd Chafe of Petty Harbour is the focus of a new video made by the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters (CCPFH).

He started hauling cod traps with his father when he was 12. He did his time in Alberta but the dark tidal pull of the water called him back, and now he’s taking over his father’s enterprise.

The problem here is that Chafe’s story isn’t all that familiar anymore. The fishery is becoming devoid of young people, and that’s part of what this video, just one in a series made by the CCPFH, is all about.

“One of our main concerns for years now has been intergenerational transfer of the fishery to a new generation,” says John Sutcliffe, CCPFH’s executive director.

“The fishing population is certainly aging. Our intention was to inform both harvesters in various regions, but also to let the more general public know about the fishery and what work and life in the fishery is all about.”

And these days, life in the fishery is all about professionalism.

 

Chafe remembers what fishing was like in the 1980s. He says fishing was what you did when there wasn’t anything else to do to make a living. It was the province’s safety net. But that safety net frayed and broke a long time ago and those left hanging on in the fishery are the ones who really want to be there. They’re the people who love it, like Chafe.

“You can’t ask for no better. You get up with water splashing in your face and you’re watching the sun come up. You’re your own boss, come and go as you please. If the weather turns bad, come in out of it. If not, stay out.”

That sense of freedom is all well and good, but the fishery is up against some pretty lucrative employment offers these days, and being your own boss and smelling the salt air isn’t quite compensation enough for most to give the fishery a second glance, let alone a lifetime of pulling crab pots. Chafe says that he can’t see people getting into it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. The industry is changing into one with higher standards with regards to safety. What Chafe wants to see is change in philosophy.

“The fishery is changing every year and every day, but it’s got to change a lot more from what it is now to really get into the habit of realizing, b’ys, you’re fishing for food and not only money,” he says.

It’s not dollars coming up over the side of your boat. It’s food for people. In order to make more money, the quality has to go up. It sounds simple enough, but it involves changing the way the majority of people out on the water do things.

Panning crab at sea is one practice Chafe thinks would act as a catalyst to turn the industry around. That involves getting the crab in a pan on ice while out on the boat so that when you hit the dock, it can be passed right over to the processor without further handling of the crustaceans. The more it’s handled, the more the quality disintegrates, says Chafe.

“If everybody panned at sea, the price would go up and that would trickle down. We got to get the quality up. We should be making a lot more money than what we’re making,” he says. “If the quality don’t go up, we’re not gonna survive. Nobody is fishing.”

And that’s the purpose of this video, too, says Sutcliffe. It shows the philosophy of the people in the fishery now and how they believe in a sustainable, high-quality, professional trade.

There is a public perception of the fishery and the people in it, but that’s really not the story. The fishery takes place in remote areas, generally far from metropolitan centres.

 

A more sustainable industry

Some people may know little about the fishery, but they’re still demanding an industry that is more sustainable.

The video shows these people just what fishers like Chafe are all about. The culture of the fishery is changing. People are smarter when it comes to training, safety, substantiality and learning about the market and what the market is asking for.

“It’s slow, but I think those kinds of changes strongly suggest that there is a future for a very committed, highly trained and well compensated workforce in the future,” says Sutcliffe. “But in the present time we’re in a bit of a hiatus here where it’s not all that clear to people making career decisions.”

The video shows that too — a young, bright Chafe with fresh ideas plugging away at the fishery. Even if that were persuasive to a younger generation out there with an aptitude for sea legs, there is still a tidal wave of a barrier for young people entering the fishery: the money it costs to get an outfit set up with a boat and a licence.

“That’s the biggest single barrier, for sure,” says Sutcliffe.

Right now, licences are spread over many people, and younger people who would like to get a hold of them can’t afford it. At the end of the video, Chafe says, “At least now the ones who are fishing should be considered professional because they are highly trained. It’s the only way to go.”

Will the video make a difference?

“I hope so,” says Chafe. “It is a profession and you should be proud to be in it.”

He says if they can get the number of people in the industry down so that people in it can get bigger quotas and fish for seven to nine months of the year and get the quality up so that they get a better price, the industry could turn a corner.

His optimism isn’t about to sink, anyway.

“I think the future is going to be better in 10 years than it is now.”

To view the video, go to http://youtu.be/IOQSQHNpjY8 or search crab fishery-Petty Harbour, Newfoundland on YouTube.

 

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

 

Organizations: Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters

Geographic location: Petty Harbour, Alberta, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Diana
    January 23, 2013 - 19:10

    Let the fishing/crab/lobster industry die. We don't need it. It's a violent industry that engages in cruelty to animals every day. An industry that refuses to admit that it is causing pain and suffering to sentient beings. An industry that has pillaged the oceans to the point of causing extinctions and near extinctions of countless species. Not that we really needed scientists to prove it, but now they've demonstrated that crabs feel pain: Queen's University Belfast scientists showed that crabs select the shelter without the electric shock over the shelter with the shock. Other studies have shown that fish feel pain, that they have neurotransmitters that release endorphins, like we do, that they experience fear and suffer in psychological ways, like we do. In 2013, there is no reason at all to eat animals, whether from the sea or from the land. We have vegetarian versions of just about every kind of meat, fish, and fowl. If you don't have veggie bologna, veggie hot dogs, veggie burgers, veggie chicken nuggets, veggie fish fillets, veggie ham, etc. at your local grocery, it's only because you and your friends haven't requested/demanded these products. Today, you could fill a full size grocery store with veggie versions of everything (including dairy alternatives). So why should we continue to accept cruelty as a daily part of human existence? Isn't it time we evolved?

    • sean brooks
      May 09, 2013 - 12:26

      This is in regards to the first comment I seen by DIANA. Ive been a commercial fisherman for many years and confident I know much more than you will ever about the industry and the future of it. You probably did not know that humans evolved because of the invention of fire. Our brain's scientists say evolved to the point we now use more of it because of the introduction of meat into our diet. It helps to do research before you make comments that dictate the lives of not just people or commercial fisherman, but livliehoods and money on the table for many children and there families

  • Casey
    January 21, 2013 - 13:15

    Good for you Todd Chafe. With proper management the fishing grounds of NL could be gold mine for generations to come. If NLers don't fish their own resource you can be sure that Ottawa will gladly dole it out to foreign interests with the benefits going to other parts of Canada. To all you naysayers is that what you want. With much less fishermen and a better marketing plan EI would not be such an issue, but lets not forget NL is not the only place in Canada that has seasonal employment. The NL government and the union need to pressure Ottawa on it's plan for a re-vitalized Cod Fishery. Don't let them give it away to foreigners to benefit Ontario and Quebec!

  • California Pete from NFLD
    January 21, 2013 - 12:29

    No thanks I like my steady income. I like my steady income fishing will never return to NL the way it was

  • david
    January 21, 2013 - 08:30

    Why would anyone produce a propoganda video to entice new workers into an industry that remains as economically and emotionally ruinous as being a fisherman in Newfoundland? Is the CCPFH that manipulative, devious and cruel? Smile everyone....action!

  • Christopher Chafe
    January 21, 2013 - 07:57

    "Chafe remembers what fishing was like in the 1980s. He says fishing was what you did when there wasn’t anything else to do to make a living. It was the province’s safety net. But that safety net frayed and broke a long time ago and those left hanging on in the fishery are the ones who really want to be there. They’re the people who love it, like Chafe." Or it could be the fact that they LOVE living off TOP EI for the majority of the year.