DUMPING DAY, NOV. 29:
We pull into the parking lot and my son is out of the car before I have a chance to say anything.
It is 5:15 a.m. at the Pinkney’s Point wharf in Yarmouth County on Nov. 29 – lobster season dumping day – and I watch him walk away at a brisk pace.
“Jacob!” I shout out as I try to keep up with him. I'm nearly tripping over my feet and the distance between us is growing. "Jacob, wait!"
He looks back and I tell him, “Be safe. Have a good day.”
He keeps walking and I feel the need to say more.
“Jacob!” I yell out again. He turns once more and I simply tell him, “Love ya!”
And in that moment I was no longer just the wife of a lobster fisherman. I became the mother of one too.
As a lobster fishing family, our lives have been forever tied to this wharf; not far from the house my husband grew up where his dad was also a fisherman.
Before and after Greg and I were married, the wharf was tied to our lives. He’d be working on the boat. I’d sit there watching.
He’d be out fishing. I’d be home waiting.
A couple of times I’ve gone on fishing trips towards the end of the lobster season, but only on May days when the weather was calm.
“It’s not always like this,” he once told me, implying that I wasn’t getting the full fishing experience. “I know,” I said. “I’ll just use my imagination.”
The truth is, I prefer not to think about the alternative. Fishing is risky and dangerous and as a reporter I’ve had to write stories about those who have gone fishing and haven’t come back. I hope never to have to again.
But the sea does not discriminate. It will take the young, and it will take the old. It may claim one life at a time, or it may lay claim to many lives all at once. If your family has already experienced this type of heartbreak, it doesn’t mean you are immune to experiencing it again. Nor does a community reach its quota of loss.
AN IMPORTANT INDUSTRY
For our families and our communities in this region the lobster fishery is of vital importance. It truly is the engine that drives our economy. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans tabulated last year that the landed value of the lobster fishery in this district was more than $432.7 million.
But just as important as the economic side, is the safety side. Yes, we want our fishermen to bring home good catches, but most importantly we want them to come home.
My husband and other fishermen come home tired, and, at times, their bodies beaten from the backbreaking work that’s involved. Days later, or sometimes just hours later, they have to go back out and do it all over again. In the fishery you're governed by the weather.
My husband has been hurt by equipment, he’s been dragged overboard, he’s come to the aid of other vessels taking on water. He’s missed many of our kids’ hockey games, family vacations and other events because he’s been out fishing. And he’s not the only fisherman risking their safety or making these sacrifices. There are thousands more. LFA 34 has 979 lobster licences with boats crewed usually by three people, and even more at this time of the year. But as someone once told me, salt water runs through the veins of fishermen.
In the first half of our marriage on lobster season dumping day, (it's called this since it’s the day fishermen set their traps at sea) I stayed home as our young children slept while their dad went fishing. But I was always “there” on dumping day just the same, whether it was watching the clock strike 6 a.m. or listening to the sound of patrolling aircraft overhead.
And now one of those little boys who was asleep at home when his dad left the wharf to go out fishing is 18 years old and part of the crew.
“Are you ready?” my son asks as we stand in the kitchen at 5 a.m. his signal it's time to drive to the wharf.
I don't know, I think to myself. Am I?
On dumping day lobster vessels are loaded with hundreds of traps, rope, balloons, anchors and other gear. Deck space is at a premium, if it exists at all. And on top of that we're throwing people into the equation?
My son and I leave our driveway and join a long caravan of traffic heading to the wharf. I comment to him about how this is the only day of the year that there's rush hour traffic at five in the morning in Melbourne and Pinkney's Point. Later at the wharf I barely see Jacob, except for the occassional glance through the wheelhouse window.
As the boats leave the wharf at 6 a.m., those of us watching see one boat fetch up trying to exit the harbour. It takes a few attempts for it to round the breakwater. Another boat is listing – or so it seems to those of us watching – before it even pulls away from the wharf. Some of us, fearing the worst, can barely watch as it bobs in the harbour. I'm one of them. My heart dips each time the boat does.
We watch as a military plane flies overhead. It’s there for protection so it should bring reassurance. But instead it only reinforces the sense of how risky the start to the season is.
Am I ready?
Will I ever be?
All any of us can do is hope the season will be a safe one for everyone. I know I'm thankful when I see crewmembers wearing their PFDs as they sail past.
Dumping day is an emotional time for the families of fishermen – evident by those who year after year stand on the wharfs and shorelines, waving as their loved ones steam out of port. At the Pinkney’s Point wharf, sailing off to the fishing grounds were husbands, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, boyfriends and sons. “Good luck!” came the shouts from shore. “Stay safe!”
One young girl yells out, "I love you!"
So many families rely on this fishery and are impacted by it.
I comment to the women standing around me – many of whom I’ve known since before Jacob was born – about how he is on his dad’s boat, appropriately named Jacob’s Journey, heading out on his first dumping day.
I’ve been here for other dumping days, but this one feels like my first. It's one thing when your husband is on the boat. It’s another thing when your son is there too.
Whispers one of the moms to me, “It changes everything.”