Saturday morning the first alarm sounded at 4:30am, another 5 minutes later just to be sure the snooze button didn’t get the better of either (or both) of us.. Thom ambled out of bed to get dressed in his many layers and I squeezed my eyes shut, mustering all the energy I could to get up behind him and make sure he had everything he needed for his breakfast and lunch. James, one of the guys who works on the boat with Thom would be picking him up at 5am to head down to the wharf. It was Dumping Day in southwest Nova Scotia, the beginning of the lobster fishing season. Thom got a job as a bander, on a boat with 3 other guys down the shore.
Nova Scotia is completely surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, bar the exception of about 50-some-odd kilometres that join Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. With an abundance of ocean around the remaining 7 400km coastline, it’s not surprising that fishing is a major industry in these parts. The lobster season is spread throughout the year in different areas, in order to preserve populations. In Southwest Nova Scotia, where my parents live, Dumping Day is traditionally the last Monday in November. This year, though, Mother Nature had other plans, blowing a gale for about 5 days, causing the entire season to be postponed by 5 days.
Fishermen waited anxiously on shore for the weather to settle down and allow them to safely be out on the water. The season starts at a predetermined time, which allows all boats an equal chance at the water. This year our area (LFA 34) was scheduled to start at 6am, while up the shore a ways (LFA 33) didn’t leave until 7am. A local tradition is for everyone to gather at the Cape Forchu Lighthouse as all the boats drive past on their way out to sea from the Yarmouth Bar. The radio station broadcasts live, I think there may have even been a breakfast going on. My parents and I piled into Dad’s ’98 Chevy truck at 5:35am and made our way out to join the rest of the community.
We were listening to the radio for the 15 minutes before 6am, and they amped up the excitement by playing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” followed by local heroes Owen & Gerry’s newest take on Blurred Lines, called Buoy Lines. These two are a French parody team who’ve been putting a Nova Scotian spin on popular music for a few years now. If you’re looking for a chuckle, they’ve got a couple other songs, including Lobster Claw (Photograph, rewritten), If I Caught a Million Lobsters (which sounds a lot like the Barenaked Ladies “If I Had a Million Dollars).
With minutes to go before the clock turns over to 6 and Dumping Day officially starts off the season, a prayer is said for a safe and prosperous season, for all the men and women on the boats, for their families waiting on land and for the community and surrounding areas which are so dependant on this industry. I’d always supported the local fishing industry and wished them a safe and prosperous season, but this year it came from a different place in my heart.
As we drove past the Yarmouth Bar, none of us had ever seen so many trucks double parked along the road. Getting closer to the Cape Forchu Lighthouse, there were only more cars, all supporters seeing the boats off. I am not a great morning person, and in the rush of getting out the door, managed to forget the tripod for my camera, so I was left to take a few amateur photos to try and capture the atmosphere. I can’t say that I was overly successful, but heck, I’ll still share them. The local newspaper, The Vanguard, posted some great photos and a video from if you’re interested in seeing more of Dumping Day in action (in the dark).
The crescent moon hung in the sky as the boats cruised past. My iPhone caught a better photo than my dSLR (partly because my hands were too numb as the frigid wind whipped at them uncovered. Using the light post to try to help steady myself, my dSLR caught a giant stream of lights as the boats whizzed by. 1700 boats left the area that morning, with a minimum of 4 people on each, some bigger boats having more. Standing out in the cold with a growing crowd, waving and chatting, reality began to set in that Thom was out there, somewhere. I had a nervous feeling, anxious almost. Not that I needed to or should worry, but knowing that he was out there, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I pushed any dangerous thoughts out of my mind and focused on the great stories he’s gong to have to tell friends and family when we get back to New Zealand.
To beat the crowd of poorly parked motorists, we didn’t stick around the lighthouse too long. Instead Dad took me down to the Marine Rock dock in town, to try to get a few better freehand shots. The sun was still sleeping, so in blanket of complete darkness I was quite literally shooting in the dark. Surprisingly enough, there were still a few stragglers hanging around and loading up their boats.
I spent the entire day wondering how Thom was making out. The boat he’s working on isn’t big enough to carry all the traps at once (300 is the maximum limit and the boat could hold about 175), which meant they had to do two trips out to sea to dump. The fishery rules allow them to start hauling in and collecting at 12:01am. Since it was a Saturday, I was working at the hotel downtown, bartending a wedding. I didn’t make it home in time to see him before he took off again at 1am. I pulled into the driveway as he was driving off. That’s right, he was gone from 5am that morning, until 10.30pm that night, was home for two hours to sleep/eat and then was gone again to start hauling the traps. He didn’t come get home again until 6pm Sunday night. And that’s how it’s been since Dumping Day; up at some crazy ridiculous hour – sometimes leaving home at 1 or 1.30am, sometimes 3am, and then home after dark.
And I thought picking apples was hard work. After hearing Thom’s stories of just 3 days on the boat, and seeing the tired in his bloodshot eyes, I’ve never been more proud of his hard work ethic and his ability to take on any challenge, or to be a part of this community in Nova Scotia.