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TINA COMEAU: Another dumping day kicks off the lobster season in southwestern N.S. – and there goes my family


Each year as she watches members of her family head to the fishing grounds on dumping day, Tri-County Vanguard lead editor Tina Comeau offers a personal reflection on the lobster fishery.


YARMOUTH, N.S. - Honestly, how does the cat know it’s dumping day?

One thing about Smokey, he’s consistent. He usually wakes me up every morning around 5:40 a.m. But not today. Today he’s meowing in my face at 4:13 a.m. It’s just as well. I had my alarm set for 4:30 a.m. to get ready to head to the wharf in Pinkney’s Point, Yarmouth County.

The lobster season in southwestern N.S. – and in our case LFA (lobster fishing area) 34 – was starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. We’d all be heading to the wharf at 5 a.m., except for my husband Greg, who was gone by 4:31 a.m. I’m pretty sure he barely slept all night, whereas I got a hardy four-and-a-half hours of sleep after driving home the night before from a high school hockey tournament in Berwick to be home for dumping day morning.

Except for me, our two cats and our rabbit, everyone in my household – my husband and my two sons, Jacob and Justin – would be heading out to sea on dumping day

Still at the house (well, except for my husband), we’re all in various stages of “gearing up” to head to the wharf. I’m putting a fully-charged battery in my camera and making room on my memory card to take lots of photos. Jacob is packing a bag of clothes (they may not be home for days).

Justin is packing his stuff and making his breakfast. Burnt toast it is.

Jacob’s girlfriend Emmy has made the trip from her home in Wolfville to experience dumping day. A Valley girl, this is her first time watching the boats leave. I notice before we leave the house she’s not wearing any socks.

“Your ankles will be cold,” I tell her, as I try to find her a pair of socks that match.

My sons Jacob and Justin, and Jacob's girlfriend Emmy, walk towards our family's boat at the Pinkney's Point wharf, shortly after 5 a.m. on Dec. 1 for dumping day morning. TINA COMEAU
My sons Jacob and Justin, and Jacob's girlfriend Emmy, walk towards our family's boat at the Pinkney's Point wharf, shortly after 5 a.m. on Dec. 1 for dumping day morning. TINA COMEAU

READ ALSO: YARMOUTH HARBOUR LOBSTER FISHING FLEET RECEIVES TRADITIONAL SENDOFF FROM CAPE FORCHU LIGHTSTATION

We pile into my car and start to back out of the driveway when I realize I forgot my phone. I open the door of the car to get out but it’s is still going backwards.

“Why are we moving??!!!” I shout out.

“Because you’ve got the car in reverse,” Justin points out.

Is it just me, or does dumping day start way too early?

I grab my phone and get back in the car, telling Justin to select a specific song from my playlist for the drive to the wharf.

“You have a theme song for the drive to the wharf?” he asks.

Well, yeah, I think to myself, shouldn’t everybody?

The song I’ve selected is called A Little Peace by MILCK.

The lyrics fill the car: ‘Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh,’ All I need is a little peace . . . A little peace.”

It’s the feeling I’m aiming for today.

I don’t want to be nervous.

I don’t want to be worried.

I don’t want to be thinking about how dangerous and risky the first day of the season is.

I’m not sure a three-minute-and-21-second song can negate all this, but I’m willing to try.

As we pass the cemetery in Pinkney’s Point I give two toots of my horn.

“That’s for Grandpere Surette,” I tell the boys. This is the second dumping day without my father-in-law Henry since he died. I think about all of the decades he was on the boat.

2016: WHEN MOM IS WATCHING FROM THE WHARF

LAST YEAR'S SEASON: AM I READY? THERE'S THAT QUESTION AGAIN – FAMILIES ON SHORE AND AT SEA

Lights are reflected into the water from lobster boats loaded with traps and gear for the start of the lobster fishery. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Lights are reflected into the water from lobster boats loaded with traps and gear for the start of the lobster fishery. TINA COMEAU PHOTO


We arrive at the wharf and the air feels picture-perfect calm. The season that should have started Monday is getting underway on Saturday due to a week-long weather delay. I’m thankful to those who made that decision. Today is a good day.

The harbour is filled with boats that are loaded with traps and gear – the lights from the boats are reflected on the water. It’s both beautiful and scary. The scary part comes from looking at the boats loaded with traps and gear. I can see that Emmy is nervous so I speak reassuring words to her. Jacob’s dad has been fishing for more than 30 years and they’ve never had an incident on dumping day, I tell her.

Still, I’m also scanning their boat, wondering how you can possibly fit all that gear and people too. I tell Justin once again to make sure he wears his lifejacket. He tells me this is the 135th time I’ve reminded him.

He’s exaggerating, of course, I’ve probably only mentioned it 126 times.

As time passes, more and more people have arrived at the wharf – wives, girlfriends, siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters. There’s even a family dog.

We all situate ourselves on the wharf and wave to all of the boats as they pass by while many people shout out, “Good luck! Stay safe!”

This is a scene that I know is repeating itself at wharfs all over southwestern Nova Scotia and along the province’s south shore. With close to 1,700 boats heading out to sea – with crews of around three to five people on each as the season starts – there’s very few people in this part of the province who don’t have a direct, or at least an indirect, tie to this fishery that is so important to the economy – and not only to the economy of the region, but to the province as well. And the lobster fishery has helped to sustain our economy for a long time.

During last year’s season, preliminary figures from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans say that 31,863 tonnes of live lobster were landed in LFAs 33 and 34 for a landed value of approximately $502 million.

And yet sometimes when someone asks, “What does your husband do?” or “What does you son do?” sometimes the response is, “He just fishes.”

Of course, the word ‘just’ should never be in that sentence. We’d never say someone is just a farmer, or just a teacher, or just a businessman.

Fishing is hard work. It is noble work. It is grueling work. It is physically demanding. Over the winter a day at the “office” is in bitter cold temperature with windy conditions. There’s no real schedule fishermen can rely on. Their lives and livelihoods are governed by the weather throughout the six-month season that will end on May 31.

Along with the emotional tie for many people watching the boats head out to sea, there is also a feeling of swelling with pride. 

At the Pinkney’s Point wharf, meanwhile, there’s always that one boat every dumping day that scares those of us on shore as it looks to list to its side while steaming out of harbour. I can’t even watch it. I have to look away.

My husband's boat Jacob's Journey pulling away from the wharf with my husband and two sons aboard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
My husband's boat Jacob's Journey pulling away from the wharf with my husband and two sons aboard. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

And then our family’s boat, Jacob’s Journey, pulls away from the wharf. I know what thoughts are going through my mind. I wonder what Emmy is thinking of at this moment too. Jacob is waving goodbye. I see Justin in the wheelhouse and yell out my lifejacket reminder, just in case he missed it the other 135 times, according to his calculations.

As boat after boat steams away – forming what looks like a lighted city on the water’s horizon – there’s a bit of comic relief on the wharf as one boat is throwing out a lot of smoke from its exhaust. “I finally got a boat named after me,” laughs a woman on the wharf. “Look at me, I’m smokin’!”

The last boat leaves and so does everyone else. The harbour that less than an hour ago was so full of activity is now quiet and empty.

Emmy and I walk back to my car and I pick out another song for drive home. It’s the song ‘From Now On,’ from the movie The Greatest Showman. I like when the song kicks up into a specific set of lyrics that repeat themselves again and again:

“And we will come back home. And we will come back home. Home, again!”

“And we will come back home. And we will come back home. Home, again!”

I think about my family that just sailed away. On this morning, those are exactly the words I want (and need) to hear.

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