Commercial fisherman Joel Collier was shocked when he docked in Prince Rupert this past summer, seeking a shower and shops to restock on supplies, only to find that many of the services and businesses he expected had disappeared.
“Prince Rupert being a huge fishing hub in the past, it was a pretty alarming change,” Melissa Collier, Joel’s wife, a fellow fisherman and co-owner of their harvest business, said.
In early July Joel joined his cousin to fish for halibut. They made a stop in PR to deliver and resupply when Joel went looking for a shower at the Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco) dock. All he found was a sign on the door of the washroom stating Canfisco will no longer have showers and laundry services available for fish harvesters.
The sign, dated June 6, went on to explain, “Access to salmon opportunities have decreased and the company has reduced full-time staff in P.R. At the same time rising costs for maintaining the services and continued abuse of the facilities have forced us to discontinue offering these services.”
Joel was surprised. He and Melissa took over his parents’ fishing boat, the Lisa Jess, in 2015.
They operate out of Courtney, B.C., but have both fished in the north, using P.R. as a hub, for many years — Joel, since he was six years old.
After not finding a shower at the Canfisco dock, Joel went to the Rushbrook dock where he was once again met with disappointment.
“Shower is closed indefinitely. Sorry for any inconvenience,” stated a notice on the door, which was signed by the Port Edward Harbour Authority.
Joel’s cousin’s boat has its own shower facilities that he was able to go back and use, but many vessels that work and operate out of P.R. do not, Melissa said.
“It was just really alarming to go up there and all of a sudden have services that you rely on as a fisherman unavailable and a sign right there that says why they are unavailable is lack of fishing opportunities,” Melissa said.
The Canfisco facilities were just a small outbuilding with showers and a toilet, Phil Young, vice president of fisheries and corporate affairs at Canfisco said on Sept. 8.
The seafood processing company was not expecting much of a fishing season this year and the washroom facilities had become costly because they were vandalized in previous years, he said. Canfisco also had fewer management staff at the plant to give fishermen access to the laundry machines, so the decision was made to close them.
Young did not hear any feedback or complaints about the lack of services.
It wasn’t just the lack of showers and laundry though, Joel saw changes further into the city.
He needed to buy a marine antenna for his cousin’s boat and could not find one in town, which Melissa said was very unusual.
When he went to Pacific Net and Twine, the primary fishing gear store in town, he discovered that their inventory was primarily geared towards sport fishing now rather than commercial, Melissa said. A significant change from the last time he was there.
“When you have a healthy fishing community and a healthy fishing economy, it feeds back into the community and a lot of the money and the resources that come from that employment stays within the coastal communities… there’s a lot of local businesses that benefit from having fishermen in the community and fishermen spending money in the community,” Melissa said.
Melissa fears that the availability of amenities is headed in a downward spiral.
“If commercial fishermen come in and they can’t get the gear they need or the supplies they need, they’re going to stop coming, which means that local shops are going to stop carrying any of that.”
Alternatively, they have to pay additional fees to order equipment and supplies into the city, she said.
The Tourism Prince Rupert website states the city “was built on fishing and has lost nothing of those humble origins today … Because this is truly a fishing town, everything you need to catch some fish is right here.”
While this might be true for recreational fishermen, Joel’s experiences show it is becoming less true for commercial fishers, said Melissa.
“There has been big changes [in the fishing industry]. Some of it’s for the better … but then there’s also a lot of things that are just getting harder and harder, particularly in the last several years. Everything from access opportunities to the rules and regulation changes and the amount of paperwork that we have to do,” Melissa said.
“We love the lifestyle, we love being able to provide food for our community and for our family. B.C. has some of the best seafood in the world and we love being able to access that and then feed everyone around us … It’s tough that this has been part of my husband’s life for his whole life and it just feels like every year it’s getting harder and it’s hard to stay positive.”
Lack of amenities and support onshore are just one more hurdle commercial fishermen are facing these days.
Black Press reached out to Port Edward Harbour Authority and Pacific Net and Twine for comment but nothing was forthcoming at time of publication.
Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View