Home Port: Sointula
How did you start fishing?
I’m a 5th generation fisherman and my first fishing trip was when I was 2.5 years old. I went up to Haida Gwaii with my parents and we were fishing for Cumshewa chum salmon. On the way out crossing Queen Charlotte Sound, I was really seasick. But on the way back I was on my dad’s lap yelling “whee daddy do it again” as we went over big ocean swells with sea spray hitting us in the face as I was trying to hang out the window.
I got my first official paycheck when I was 13 gillnetting on the Central Coast for Bella Coola chum with my dad.
Why do you love to work as a commercial fisherman?
Iʼm kind of addicted. What keeps me coming back is a sense of self, community, purpose and belonging.
What fisheries have you worked in?
I’ve gillnetted, trolled and seined for salmon, fished dungeness crab by pot, prawns by pot, shrimp by trawl, and halibut by longline.
What’s it like to fish with your family?
We had a smaller boat, so we werenʼt often on the same boat at once except on family vacation trips. When we were older, my mom and younger sister would take the first half of the summer and fish sockeye while I sold shrimp in front of the co-op on Sointula. I would do the Queen Charlotte or Johnstone Strait chum salmon shift later in the summer with my dad.
Fishing with my dad was definitely a bonding experience. He taught me most of what I know, especially work ethic, community values and how to cook on the boat. That’s not to say we didn’t butt heads a lot.
Now being older, I realize how amazing, special, and inspiring my mom was. I didnʼt recognize it when I was younger because thatʼs just how it was. Fishing, working on the boat, mending and building nets, she was always so involved. She even currently fishes halibut and crab; the two hardest fisheries going and she is out there doing it! Thatʼs just how it was in my family and also in my community of Sointula. Sometimes I need to take a step back so I can recognize that. Seeing my mom and women in my community doing those things meant I never had a thought or a doubt that I couldnʼt do it.
Sointula has never questioned my identity as a fisherman. My family and community have given me an inherent confidence about my abilities and role as a fisherman and continue to support me in all things fishy.
What are your favourite moments?
There is no better feeling of accomplishment than that of heading to town with a load. There’s a shared sense of camaraderie and perseverance for the crew, knowing that no matter how hard or long the trip was, how exhausted you are, how many times you may have silently quit in your own mind; you’re heading to showers, beer, and other fishermen to share your new fishing stories with.
The days before a fall chum salmon opening when itʼs often blustery and rainy, or cold and crisp. Sitting on anchor, spending the day puttering around the boat, working on the net, drinking tea, napping, snacking, and reading. There is a feeling of being cozy and peaceful on the boat wondering what’s in store for tomorrow’s fishing.
Night time wheel shifts or hanging on the to end of a gillnet with a full or crescent moon and a sky full of stars; youʼre at the wheel and thinking “wow, this is my life”.
What are your hopes for the future of commercial fishing?
To see healthy fisheries nurture vibrant and healthy coastal communities. I hope to raise a family on the water and take my kids clams digging in the winter and salmon fishing in in the summer. I want to teach them the things my family and community taught me.
I hope to see fisheries put back into the hands of the people who are working on the water and to see fisheries come back to being community centered. To do that, we need policy change and a cultural shift of the broader societyʼs perceptions of commercial fishermen.
Article and photos by Chelsey Ellis