Small-Scale Fishermen and Farmers “In the Same Boat”

Guest Contribution by Rachel Bower

People can’t eat oil, but they can eat codfish.” – Bill Molloy, inshore cod fisherman

I am an independent documentary filmmaker living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My latest documentary “In The Same Boat” highlights the parallel challenges facing small-scale fishing and farming communities. Set in the rugged landscape of coastal Newfoundland and the spectacular ranchlands of Southern Alberta, “In The Same Boat” is an intimate portrait of one of Newfoundland’s last remaining inshore cod fishermen and the lessons he has to share with Alberta’s farmers.

On the family farm, Lethbridge, Alberta.

On the family farm, Lethbridge, Alberta.

One of the main reasons I started filming came from a desire to have everyone experience the delight of eating local fresh food. I grew up in Burlington, Ontario where food, while always provided, was not the centre of our lives. With many after-school activities, our meals were often ‘on the run.’ I rarely thought about where food originated – it simply came from the grocery store.

It was not until I went to university– when, ripping open another frozen box of pizza- that my friend (who had grown up in a small rural community) said, ‘I can’t believe you have no idea how to cook.’ It struck me then that it is too easy to go through life without learning how to cook. Everything is packaged and ready for you. That reality made me profoundly sad and was the start of my interest in where our food comes from.

I have been lucky as a documentary filmmaker to travel to Nigeria, Ukraine and Romania. In these countries the meals made my taste buds explode – so delicious words can’t describe. When I inquired why the food tasted so marvelous, it was always the same answer – the food was fresh and local, usually picked that day and brought straight to your plate.

Bill's catch of the day, Newfoundland.

Catch of the day, bottom longline caught cod.

I learned many things while making “In The Same Boat.” While the costs for participating in both livelihoods go up, the amount both small-scale farmers and fishermen make continues to decrease. There are also fewer young people getting into both the inshore fishery and family farming. And even if the younger generation wants to get involved, there are fisheries regulations that make it difficult to pass on the skills. For instance, the fisherman highlighted in the documentary was unable to give his grandson his enterprise. If his grandson wants to continue fishing, the start-up costs would be too great.

Although the inshore fishery and family farming are ‘ways of life,’ it is not simply a quaint lifestyle that people can shrug their shoulders about, saying ‘oh well, if it is over it is over, change is good.’ The loss of small-scale food industries has critical social, ecological and economic consequences. In this regard, it is every person’s ‘way of life’ at stake.

To protect these livelihoods and make sure we have local fresh food to eat, we must support our small-scale food providers. For example, I’m excited to take part in Off The Hook Community Supported Fishery (CSF). CSFs work to connect consumers to the people who actually caught their fish. Similar to Community Supported Agriculture, CSF customers sign up at the beginning of a season for weekly shares of fish. Consumers gain access to fresh, delicious, sustainably harvested fish and a chance to connect to the people who catch it. Meanwhile, fishing families are able to set a fair price for their catch- and the rare chance to connect back to the people who eat their fish.

Truly we are all ‘in the same boat.’

Rachel Bower has worked in the television industry for over a decade, winning several awards, including the National Radio-Television News Directors Association Award for Best Short Feature. In The Same Boat– her latest documentary- won best documentary at the Silver Wave Film Festival.  In the Same Boat will screen as part of Saint Mary’s University’s International Month, which is celebrating food security and water cooperation. Join Bower at 7pm on February 14th at Saint Mary’s Sobey Building Scotiabank Theatre.

School bus stop, rural Alberta.

School bus stop, rural Alberta.


3 thoughts on “Small-Scale Fishermen and Farmers “In the Same Boat”

  1. But the public, at least here in New England, has no idea whatever that we’re actually not all in the same boat. Our fishery systems are patronage based. A certain few have fishing rights. If you were sold on the conservation aspects of this limited entry debackle, then please point out the conservation! It never happened. The kid getting out of high school no longer aspires to fish, because the ladder of upward mobility and the freedoms and dignity, that we once had, are gone. Some people are “in the boat” with the fishing rights. All others are … what’s the word, outcast. The ones with the fishing rights are doing ok, even with the resources pared down to the bone, because profit from fishing has two parts, one part is a government patronage system of grants, the other is the actual fish. Who wants to be a life long deck hand, working as a slave laborer? My system is a poundage quota system, and it has no long term special deals for a certain lucky few. My system builds habitat assets, and stock assets, for the public trust. My system is in fact a system where we could say that we were all in one boat. Who are fishermen? We don’t even know this anymore. Let’s rub salt in the wounds of the would be young fishermen by a false declaration that we’re somehow all in one boat. We’re not.

  2. Pingback: Small Scales Website | In The Same Boat

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