About the Fishermen
Off the Hook Cooperative Limited formed in June, 2010 in Digby County, Nova Scotia. The five founding fishermen members work from different harbours in the area but share a passion for fishing groundfish with a bottom hook and line. Most of them also catch lobster part of the year - one of the few remaining commercially viable fisheries in Atlantic Canada. However, as government policies, seafood markets and ecological conditions continue to shift, forward-thinking fishers are looking to keep their livelihoods diverse and resilient.
Off the Hook's fishing members are united by their recognition of the need to do something different to protect small-scale fishing livelihoods and their communities into the future.
Clifton “Tony” Thurber Jr, has lived and fished out of Freeport, Long Island for over 30 years. He’s been lobster fishing for his entire adult life and bought a bottom hook and line license for groundfish in 2001, which he has been fishing every summer since.
Small-scale fishing is truly a family business and not only do some of Tony’s seven children help out with baiting the trawl lines in the summer, his wife Laurie lobster fishes with him each winter. Their boat’s name is Thurber’s Tradition and is a 44’11 long and 15’ wide vessel crafted by Cape Saint Mary’s boat builders in the nearby Acadian village of Meteghan. As Laurie describes, “Fishing is a huge part of his life and he isn't totally happy unless he is in a boat.”
Tony loves his profession and works very hard to ensure there is a future for small-scale fishers. That’s why, despite the frustrations associated with various fisheries policies and corporate conduct, he remains active on several boards and cooperatives. Besides being a founding Board member of the Off the Hook Cooperative, Tony is a member of the Fundy Islands Fisherman's Co-operative, the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman's association and has served on the LFA advisory board for 20 years as an alternate port rep and for the past 14 years a port representative.
Beau Gillis started fishing with his father out of Freeport in Junior High School, back in the mid-eighties. Whether it was the winter lobster fishery or summer fishing with a bottom hook and line, he says he “got very seasick every time.”
By the end of the high school Beau was ready to get off the island, and so he pursued a BSc at Acadia University followed by a BEd at Dalhousie in 1995. From here he adventured all over the map, from tree planting in Alberta and British Columbia, teaching English as a Second Language in Korea, teaching high school physics and chemistry in South Carolina and Halifax, to travels through South East Asia, India, Turkey and Greece.
Still, fishing was in his blood – his grandfathers, great-uncles, uncles, and brothers have all been fishing captains. After marrying and having a son along the way, Beau returned to Freeport in 2004 to take up fishing once more. The first few seasons he crewed on lobster boats, and in 2008 he bought his own boat and bottom hook and line license.
In the summer, Beau fishes for groundfish alone in a small 36’ boat, inspired by seeing an old video of his grandfather doing so in the 1970s… and because there hasn’t been enough Halibut quota for him to pay a fair wage to a mate. He fishes because he is good at it, he likes the challenge, and because he gets to use both his brain and his back. “I think Joseph Conrad has something to do with it too,” he admits.
Chris Hudson fishes out of the small mainland community of Victoria Beach, nestled near the mouth of the Digby gut, where he’s lived all of his life. Captain of his own vessel for over 20 years, he has been fishing with a bottom hook and line since he was big enough to follow his father to the wharf and get in the boat.
While still in school, he used to cut class from time to time to go clam digging or out fishing with his father. Soon after graduating, he bought his first boat, a sixteen foot open rowboat, out of which he hauled up lobster pots and handlined from as well. “After a few years and a few leaky boats,” he upgraded to bigger vessels, and eventually to the hardy Fundy Viper II, a 44’ 11 one of a kind fiberglass and foam boat.
Chris has always been active in the fishery, working with various groups to make sure small-scale fishermen can continue to secure their livelihood from fishing. He currently serves as the President of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association and co-chair of Fundy Fixed Gear Council, among other things. As he describes, “Rural coastal communities are a way of life in Nova Scotia and their survival needs to be ensured.”
Like most fishers, Chris loves his chosen profession, relishing the unpredictability of each day on the water. As his wife Lois describes, “He still gets as excited as a kid when the big ones come up over the washboard.”
Orlie Dixon fishes out of Isreal’s Cove in the fishing village of Tiverton on Long Island.He began his fishing career at the ripe old age of 12, handlining in the summers with his father. He also took time off from school each fall to help his father get ready to go lobstering.
Like several generations of Dixons before him, there is nothing else Orlie would rather do than go fishing. Nowadays he fishes year round – trapping lobster in the winter and fishing with a bottom hook and line for groundfish in the summer. His wife Janet and two children Laura and Ben also help out with various aspects of the family fishing business.
Changes in the fishing industry over the past several years have lead to considerable challenges and frustrations for small-scale fishermen like Orlie. He wants to see a future for fishing in his community and hopes there will be a healthy fishery left for his children if they decide they want to fish when they grow up.
Orlie hopes that seafood direct marketing enterprises like Off the Hook CSF will build connections between fishermen and local consumers and help guarantee a fairer income for fishing families like his. As he explains, “It will be nice to have some say in what we think our product is worth rather that some big company telling us what they can give us for it.”
Terry Farnsworth has lived in Marshalltown, just outside of Digby, Nova Scotia since 1977, the year he got married. He started out handlining at age 14 or 15, at a time when, as he describes, “no one cared
if you borrowed a dory to catch a fish or just go for a row as long as you put it back where you found it – it was a way of life.”
Terry has since lived through devastating changes to inner Bay of Fundy fisheries. Despite ongoing struggles and sometimes depressions, though, he is determined not to sell out or give up. This is in part because Terry feels that when it comes to the small-scale independent fishery, you either “use it or lose it” to the industrial corporate agenda. “I just don’t think its right to uproot a way of life in our community,” he explains.
One of the last handliners still active in the province, market forces have since 2001 compelled Terry to switch to bottom longlining to try and eek out a living. Talking about more “efficient” fishing gears, Terry observes, “sliced and diced, I am convinced that technology has surpassed humanity.” Filmmaker Martha Steigman has documented Terry’s fight to stay on the water in the short documentary feature “In the Same Boat?”
Terry has also been juggling schoolwork with fishing this past year. He seems to find extra hours in the day to attending various community meetings as well as participating in monthly learning circles with nearby Bear River First Nations. Besides all of this, Terry is a fine musician and storyteller and when you get a chance to meet him, be sure to request a bit of both!