Fish Plant Worker: A day in the life

BC Commercial Fishing Week
~ Cory Siegner, former fish plant worker, owner at Fisherman’s Market

I was 20 years old and already had enough years at the fish plant to be used to the smell…mostly. The thing with fish plants is you deal with a lot of blood and guts, in the industry we call this offal, and because of this, you deal with a lot of scavengers looking to fill their bellies. Of all these petulant creatures my greatest nemesis has always been the mighty gull of the sea. This is a story of one man’s battle with this most worthy of foes.

It was early, 5 am early, as I filled up totes of ice and took them back to my workspace. I was lucky in those days in the fact that I didn’t have to work in a cooler or freezer all day, I had a cushy little work area right near 2 large bay doors that led out onto the loading dock. This put me close to all the comings and goings of an everyday fish plant in 1999. Disgruntled truck drivers constantly complaining about how poorly the nightshift had loaded their trucks, the office gals going out for a 9 am smoke and a cup of coffee, the gut truck that kept us all loaded on doughnuts and French fries. Yup, it was a great gig. My job was to help all the big wig seafood market owners that would come in throughout the day to go and handpick all their products. They depended on me to get them the best stuff, to make sure anything that was a step above the rest was theirs for the picking. This meant they showed up early, this meant, so did I.

I ran hard, like the gazelle upon the plain, moving fast to escape the clutching jaws of the cheetah, I too ran from my predator, and much like the cheetah, the gull gave chase.

After they had shopped, while they settled up the bill, I would ice down their catch so it would stay icy cold on its way to the markets. We went through a lot of ice so I was constantly filling up those totes from the giant flake ice machine we had at the other end of the plant. It was now about noon when I brought in our last 2 totes to ice down any last-minute orders. I knew the time was pretty accurate as there was a steady line of men heading upstairs for lunch, and in this industry, you’re never late for lunch. The upstairs lunchroom was right above my workstation, even had a little window that looked down on me, and should anyone have cared to look, they would have seen the start of an event that would shake the very fabric of my young perspective. 

As I shovelled ice I looked back down the corridor heading towards the work coolers that lay empty as the boys had just headed for lunch. Something caught my eye, something bright in the grates that lined the cement floor allowing water and offal to flow freely from the plant to the disposal. As I focused on the gleaming object, I heard a large thud from the lunchroom window above me that shook me from my gaze. I looked up a second later half expecting one of the guys to be attempting some sort of menial prank but I saw nothing odd, nothing at all. I got back to work and I reached my shovel back into the tote for a heaping mound of ice, but no, today was not the day for ordinary ice shovelling, today was a day of life-changing events, for instead of ice in my shovel it was the mightiest gull I have ever seen, poised for an altercation. It spread its wings and rose from the ice tote like a majestic phoenix rising from the ashes of time itself, the gull let out an angry, honking, yell of domination as it looked into my soul and judged me unworthy. I dropped my shovel and I ran.

I ran hard, like the gazelle upon the plain, moving fast to escape the clutching jaws of the cheetah, I too ran from my predator, and much like the cheetah, the gull gave chase. How, I will ask you, does one outrun a creature of wind and wings, well, the answer is simple, one does not. As I ran down the corridor a guttural scream released from my throat, the familiar yell, not of warfare, but of a 6-year-old child who has come face to face with the clown at the circus that has been haunting its dreams. Oh, I screamed. And I ran. All the while knowing that it would not be enough to escape.

Just when death was atop of me, when I could feel the monster’s presence at my back, I dove. I dove hard to the ground and felt the angry beast swoop overhead and continue on its frenzied flight further down the hall. I wasted no time getting to my feet and began running back the way I came, running for safety, running for home. As I ran I looked up, and the real world came crashing back to me. For there, above the ice totes standing in the lunchroom window, were 20 of my peers, 20 hard men, laughing, with tears rolling down their faces.

They didn’t see the mighty gull that I had seen, nor did they see the epic struggle for life and death that we had engaged upon. No, they didn’t see that at all. And as the world came crashing back around me I saw what they saw. A scared shitless kid running from a seagull, screaming like a girl. This would be bad.

I arrived at work the next morning to pictures of seagulls hanging everywhere, around the entire fish plant. The captions that were written on each one of them still have nightmares about today. I can’t repeat a single one in a respectable forum such as this but trust me, they stung. They tell me this is how one man tells another man he cares for them, by making fun of him for years and years to come. If you believe this to be true then each and every one of those work hardened men cared for me more than you could ever know and they still do to this day.

That is a day in the life of a fish plant worker and why we all hate seagulls.

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