Rights of passage – a fisherman’s son

~ Adam Pearl, Commercial Fisherman and one of the owners of the Fisherman’s Market

My boys, Theodore and Sullivan, are 9 and 10 respectively. They are starting to more frequently bring upcoming on my boat prawn fishing with me. This is something which will not go away. I know this from experience. Not just from myself once being a 9 year old wanting to go with dad, but also all my cousins with their dads as well. Every young man in my family gets the urge to at least try commercial fishing like their fathers had before them. And their fathers before them and on and on. I think my boys are young. Too young. And then I think about my first trip with dad.

I was 9 and I had asked multiple summers previously to go out with him to no avail. This summer, however, he said ok. I was so excited. It was just straight-up exciting. To see your dad go fishing time and time again and come home with a garbage bag of clothes smelling like adventure and unknown, it was just very surreal for me to now be going on this adventure.

You may chuckle, but learning to pee over the cap rail when going up and down in the groundswell is a skill learned.

It was a tuna trip. We travelled out hundreds of miles off the Oregon coast as I recall. Me, my dad and Russ. Russ was so impressive to me at the time. I chuckle now thinking he was probably 22 years old at the time. I only remember snippets of that trip all these years later. But those snippets are and will always be etched in my head forever. Like it happened yesterday.

The sound the tunas made on the wooden decks of the Fritzi Ann as they flapped around a million miles an hour before I bled them. Yes, me at 9, one of my few jobs was to bleed the fish with a long fabricated stabbing device in the image of a spear. You may think it sounds grim, but it was a necessary task to keep the quality of the fish first class, and to me, it made me a warrior. In actuality, I was a really dirty 9-year old who was given a task to keep him out of the way and somewhat content and safe whilst the men pulled the albacore over the stern of the boat by hand.

I wasn’t scared then, of not seeing land. My dad seemed so calm in any potentially dangerous situation that I always thought he had it covered. Also, ignorance is bliss. How was I to know when there was something dangerous happening with a dad like that? Nowadays I do get a bit worried at sea. The trials and tribulations of multiple incidents, and the fact that I am now in charge, make one situationally…..aware.

Having dad point out a sea turtle to me. Russ, swimming back to the boat because we saw shark fins a few hundred feet away. The feeling of being in the freezer amongst the catch until I was sent up on deck for apparent safety reasons.

I remember the wind. And I know now, the wind is not a friend to fisherfolk. I’m not sure how much it was blowing. If it was an afternoon breeze or a full-blown gale. I do remember him trying to make spaghetti on the oil stove and the pot flying off the stove and burning him. So, as I sit here now, knowing that boat and believe it or not, that pot, it must’ve been at least 30kts. In this instance, he did not stay calm. In this area, I was well versed in what to do. Stay away, no eye contact, and most importantly; keep my mouth shut. 

You may chuckle, but learning to pee over the cap rail when going up and down in the groundswell is a skill learned. And a skill that every fisherman or woman must learn and use throughout their career.

Touching the fish, some large, feeling them through my soaked oversized cotton Work King gloves. A tuna is a miraculous animal, as so many species of fish are. When you have seen as many as I have you really get to know them as more than fish. Tuna are so aerodynamic and muscular, with big eyes and notched fin holders. They are emblazoned with bright colours of blue, yellow, black, shimmering silver and eventually a harsh reality yet natural deep crimson red. I don’t remember any other species of fish from this trip. The Canadian tuna fishery is a very clean one to this day in that the bycatch is limited. Drag a few hoochies over the stern of the boat and catch tuna. Hopefully.

All of these sights, sounds, smells, touches, balancing concerns and tastes, I think about very often. In reality, I was too young to be out there. More a hindrance than a help I expect. I also remember vividly reading the four comic books I brought over and over again, relaying the intimate and important details to Russ. Explaining all about Yoda and what he was up to. I slept in and shirked tasks. I ate all the chocolate bars and scoffed at the fresh tuna offered to me. I missed my mom. I was gone for two or three weeks out there. We called her once on a sideband radio which was nice, but I messed up and pressed the transmitter while she was talking and neither of us could hear each other. I recently asked her how she could let me go so far away at sea for so long with my dad. She simply replied, ‘he didn’t tell me he was going to do that.’ Like I said. Fishing family.

The point to all of this holds almost as true then as it does now. I was young, homesick, tired and often not amused. But I came back the next year. Not because I loved it. Not because it was in my blood. Just because that was and is what I do. There’s no explaining, no quantifying, no complaining. I’m a fisherman, and though he’s retired, my dad is too and I hope my boys are given the opportunity to at least experience all the senses of commercial fishing if they so choose. Because boy; is it an amazing adventure.

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