Skip to content

Harvester Profile: 20 Years Fishing and Counting…

July 1, 2018

Melissa Grandy
Garnish, NL

My first job was on a boat with my dad. I had to learn how to gut a lumpfish to collect the roe in a bucket. I didn’t get it my first try, but I did get it by half way through the day!

After graduation I went fishing full time. Other jobs in the area were already filled. I had plans to be a nurse, to be honest, but I was not able to go. As a result, a new plan had to emerge. It was then that my dad offered me a position on his longliner but made it clear that I had to earn the position in order to stay. I was told, “If you can’t do the job, I won’t be keeping you.”

That was in 1998-99. Boat jobs were highly sought after by men at that time. Crab quotas were at their highest and, if I remember correctly, were somewhere around 90-100,000 lbs.

I must have done something right, because I was on that boat until 2004. We worked hard and had long hours. I was given the job in the fish hold alongside my older sister, and we were the shortest of the crew. I wonder if that’s why that was our job, or maybe they knew we would be more particular over the crab and ensure they were packed better. Either way, we did our jobs and worked hard.

It wasn’t always easy. Crab would come in thick and fast. I can’t remember us taking many breaks while we hauled as you just did not have the time. Crabs would fill up the table faster than we could get it in the pens!

And oh my goodness, did I ever get seasick in that hold. I literally lived on water. There would be a 4L jug of water by my side at all times and a salt beef bucket to throw up in. That’s how I did my job for years. If you’ve never been seasick be very thankful. It is easily one of the hardest sicknesses to go through.

Life on a longliner certainly wasn’t glamourous. There was a bathroom but no shower, so a good ol’ sponge bath was your best friend. The boys would let the girls go first as there were two of us. Ponytails were our look of choice and, after a few days, you couldn’t wait for a hot shower.

The girls did most of the cooking and cleaning while the men baited up and scrubbed down the deck. Everyone loved when we BBQ’d – sick or not!

I remember one summer we only got on land for 36 hours in one week. The boat was full steam at the crab and the competitive cod. If you ever wanted to see flying fish, those were the trips you needed to see. We hauled 10,000 lbs of fish out of a few nets. We had comments from vessels close by saying that it was the fastest they had ever seen nets hauled and picked. Those were the good ol’ days, and sadly I miss them. I am, however, very happy to be where I am now.

In 2004 I split my time offshore and inshore. Our family had purchased lobster licenses by then and those boats needed crew. When the big boat docked we hopped aboard the 27 footer to haul pots. I started out just baiting the skivvers and banding the lobsters. As years went by I advanced to the hauler/girdy and pulling in pots. Lobster fishing was a lot easier and I didn’t get sick. Guess where I went then? Offshore had slowed, quotas were being cut. It was an easy choice to make for a newlywed woman.

When 2010 rolled around myself and my husband, Darren, had a long conversation about the fishery and if I should pursue something on land. I didn’t want to give up what I loved doing. It was then that we decided to purchase our own enterprise. I had reached status to go on my own, so it was now or never. I purchased an enterprise, and it was from my own parents – keeping the enterprise in the family. Their years were slowing down and upon my leaving the crew was going too. I am now an enterprise owner, and among some of the youngest in my town.

My biggest pet peeve is being asked if I am actually in the boat. Some days I say to myself, “No b’y, I sit home on my arse pretending.” I would never say that out loud to someone as I have long been taught to have a wise tongue, not loose lips. Some days when the wind is blowing hard I wish I wasn’t out there, but that’s it.

We run the enterprise as a team, my husband and I. No crew members. If our boat doesn’t leave port we do not make an income for our family. We are totally reliant on the fishery.

My biggest role model in the fishery has been my dad. I have never seen him give up on anything in his life and he worked hard all the time. 20 years ago, if dad yelled, we listened. Now I sit back and smile – my respect for him and how he taught us to work hard for everything we have, never accept handouts unless you could do something in return. He worked hard until he could not. After years of wear and tear and being too stubborn to get help it took its toll. If I could work half my life as hard as he has, I will know I did a good job.

The fishery itself, in my area, feels bleak sometimes. Quota cuts, stock depletion and over-fishing aren’t helping. There are quotas our province bargained away decades ago and I feel we need to fight to get those back. We also need to keep fighting for more involvement in science.

Seeing more women getting into this industry makes me proud. We no longer sit home and care for the homesteads. We work alongside our spouses to help bring home income for our families, we teach our children how to help. Just last week my 13 year old was out chopping bait with me. He also goes with his dad and me to fill up gas cans for our boat.

Like my dad, I refuse to hand anything to my kids on a silver platter. If you want something you must earn it. Teaching them this early in life is never a bad thing.

My best advice to anyone wanting to start out in the fishery is just go for it. Nothing in life is guaranteed so give it all you’ve got, male or female. Always know that anything worth having is worth fighting and working hard for.