OK, if I was to start a new career, I don’t think it would be as a fisherman. No, that requires real work, long hours, danger, a tremendous amount of uncertainty, harsh weather, roiling seas, low wages, and oh, did I mention danger?
In a line from the film “The Shipping News”, Billy Pretty explains to the film’s protagonist Quoyle, “…there’s more people down under these waters than are killed on the roads.” True that! The life of a fisherman is dangerous. There are monuments to those lost at sea and they number quite a few. And their families left behind are sometimes not mute testimony to this. But still, when they can, they fish. There’s very little in commercial cod fishing, but in appropriate season, crabbing, lobstering, and shrimping have filled some of the void.
Still, trying to make such a living is difficult. In an interview I conducted with a fishing fleet owner, he described the hardships faced each year, getting harder with every passing year. For him, that life was more in the past than in the future. He did not feel hopeful of the future in the least and wondered how his grandchildren would get along were they to stay.
Yet, their culture, their love for their home and the life that went before them, holds them in an almost magical way. Many people with whom I spoke, had left Newfoundland for work or school only to come back as soon as they could. All too often, wherever I’ve traveled, people talk about getting out, to somewhere else, somewhere better; no saying home for me, nossir! Grass is always greener I guess. Not in Newfoundland. they know just how green their grass is and they like it just fine, thank you very much.
But they know they’re coming back to a different land. One where the fish are gone and where their culture is disappearing if they don’t act to preserve it: that culture that has been so informed by fishing for over five centuries.
“Arn? Narn.” Any fish? No fish. It is hard out there for a fisherman.