EDITORIAL: The fishing life

There was a day when two days working the herring fishery meant a crew share of $50,000 each

His name is Junior, and he’s a fisherman. On Tuesday, with 80 tons of herring in the hold of the Southern Ridge waiting to be offloaded at French Creek Seafoods, Junior spoke about his life on the seas.

He’s from Parksville, and apart from this busy week in the waters close to his home, he is away nine months of the year, chasing tuna in the South Pacific or species closer to B.C.

Junior says it’s exciting and he loves it. He has hours of stories, including one about the time he went to sea with the captain, got to the red-hot hake fishing grounds and then realized the rest of the crew wasn’t sleeping in the boat like they thought but still in the bar on shore. It was a little scary and frantic doing all of the crew duties, and he wouldn’t want to do it again from a safety perspective, but his pay cheque was big from that day of work.

But, and there’s always a but: “missing the kids when they are young is a tough one, but hey, it puts dinner on the table.”

Not like it used to. Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek — who took time out of his day to lead us around French Creek on Tuesday, for which we are grateful — fished herring for a couple of decades starting in the 1970s, and there were years when two days on the seas netted a crew share of more than $50,000/person. But that was when they were getting more than $3,000/ton for herring.

Junior remembers those big paydays too, but he figures he will get about $8,000 as his crew share for his two days at sea this week, with the herring fetching about $300/ton. That might sound like a lot of money for two days of work, but it’s hard work, dangerous work, and he has to be ready at the drop of a hat for the opening of the season, which can mean days or weeks of downtime — hurry up and wait.

Junior will be moving along now, away from his home and the local herring fishery, perhaps to chase tuna in some warm waters, or pollock in frigid climates. He will fight weather, gear, quotas, competition, regulation, falling prices, weariness and the longing to see his family.

Fishing is a hard life.

— Editorial by John Harding