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Customs and Competition

A variety of customs and traditions have developed in fishing communities throughout Atlantic Canada over the years.  (Fishermen and processors have given me insight into what these customs are and why they are still being practiced today.) Competition is one of the major reasons why particular customs and traditions have developed over the years.  Although all wharves and regions are different most of them all share one thing; they all have “unspoken laws”.  These laws are agreements that are made by the fishermen and are abided by silently.  They are not enforced by the legal system, but are upheld by the fishermen themselves.

For example: “your wharf” is the wharf where you moor your boat.  You fish the waters near your wharf.  You cannot fish the waters off somebody else’s wharf. If you did this the fishermen at the wharf where you are “illegally” fishing would get angry and might take action.  They don’t want their waters being fished by somebody who doesn’t belong there.

Not only do certain wharves “own” certain waters, but the fishermen at these wharves “own” certain waters as well. Lines, only known and recognized by the fishermen, are discussed at the beginning of each lobster season to clarify who will be fishing where.  If you disregard this “fishermen’s agreement”, not only will you not be liked, you might find your traps moved or your lines cut.  It seems rather malicious but fishermen take their job seriously and are willing to protect their waters.   

Wharves located only minutes away from each other can be very competitive. Questions of territory may arise when one wharf has a good season and another does not. “Were they fishing our waters” or “were they fishing illegally” are questions that may arise.  Even though the fishermen at these wharfs are members of the same community they are divided by the fact that they belong to different wharfs.  Some families have been fishing the same license and the same gear from the same wharf for generations.  When you take this into consideration you realize that it is not just about competition, but also about pride.  A fisherman wants to protect what is rightfully his.

Never ask a fisherman how much he catches.  It would be the same as going up to a stranger and asking how much he gets paid.  A fisherman wants to keep this information quiet because if another fisherman knew he was catching a lot he may be tempted to move in on his territory.

Degrees of competitiveness vary amongst wharves and fishermen.  Some people are naturally more competitive than others and some wharves have more competitive tradition than others.  Regardless of the degree of competition, all fishermen must abide by the “Fishermen’s Agreements” or they will not be welcome anywhere.


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