In June of 2015, I spent two weeks as the Port Bickerton Lighthouse Artist-in-Residence. The first part of my residency proposal, and what I expected to occupy the bulk of my time, was to "push and deepen" my landscape photography. The second part of my residency proposal, if possible, was to expand upon a personal project on lobster fishing. I wasn't sure if the lobster fishing would work out or not. But, when Wilda Kaiser, one of the residency program coordinators, informed me that I was the successful applicant, she also mentioned that there would be no problem getting me out lobster fishing. In fact, just about every boat in Port Bickerton, if not every boat, volunteered to take me out (and hopefully bring me back, too!). With this news, I made sure to time my residency for the last part of the local lobster fishing season.
Wilda and her husband, Bruce George, arranged for me to sail aboard the Andrea Lynn, owned and skippered by Bruce Jack.
I ended up going out twice, once during each week of my residency, with Bruce and his crew (below: Brian Kaiser on the left, Bruce Jack in the middle, and Catlin Jack on the right). I wish I could have gone out at least once more but, at the time, I wanted to make the most of the landscape photography. In hindsight, I should have made another fishing trip.
Wilda knew from my proposal that I had been lobster fishing before. And she informed Bruce Jack about it as well. However, most of the locals, including Bruce's crew, were kept in the dark about this. I heard rumours (they were all true) that a few of them were taking bets on whether or not I would actually go through with it, or how quickly, and how badly, I would get seasick. I laughed about it, and wasn't sorry to disappoint.
When I first met Bruce Jack I asked him what time he'd be heading out the following morning. "Four-thirty," he replied. And what time would he be heading out each of the next few days? "Four-thirty!" he said, sounding slightly annoyed. I mentioned sometime later that fishing times in the Bay of Fundy varied because of the extreme tides. A six o'clock departure at the start of the week would turn into an eight or nine o'clock departure later in the week. I had forgotten that the tides wouldn't be an issue on the Atlantic, and so wouldn't affect the start of the workday. It was the first of several differences between the two fishing areas.
It may have been tough getting out of bed and down to the wharf for 4:30 in the morning, but it was worth it. Terry Sandell once commented that lobster fishermen have the best offices in the world. A beautiful ocean sunrise is proof he was right.
Most of the other differences between Port Bickerton and Five Fathom Hole were fairly minor. For example, Bruce seemed to use more of the traditional wooden traps while Terry and Randy preferred the newer wire ones. Most of Bruce's traps were set singly, while Terry used trawls of 5 to 10 traps strung together on one line. Bruce checked all of his traps every day but Terry would sometimes check half one day and the rest the next. As long as the weather cooperated, Bruce fished every day, seven days a week, for the duration of the short, two-month-long season. Terry would skip days here and there, sometimes because the tides didn't work out, and sometimes to allow the pots to soak for an extra day or two, especially when the catches were low. Terry usually didn't fish on the weekends. Last of all, the fishermen in Port Bickerton (Lobster Fishing Area, or LFA, 31b) had a single season in the spring, while those in the Bay of Fundy (LFA 36) had two seasons, one in the spring and another in the fall. Otherwise, everything was quite familiar.
A project on lobster fishing is not just about the work. Most of it is repetitive and, after a while, the pictures all start to look the same. Getting out on a different boat, though, means a different crew and, perhaps, slight differences in how things are done. A different crew also means different people, and it's the personalities, the characters, and the stories, that go a long way to making these trips enjoyable, regardless of the photography. I've been fortunate to sail with some really great folks. Finally, in Port Bickerton, I was not just on a different boat but in a completely different area with new sights and scenery to observe and record.
The part of the Bay of Fundy that Terry Sandell was fishing only had a couple of landmarks - the lighthouse at Musquash Head and the Coleson Cover generating station. The scenic part of the day was the sail in and out of the Musquash Estuary. Once on the Bay, there wasn't much else to see except other lobster boats or the tankers heading into the Port of Saint John.
The Port Bickerton area seemed to have much more scenery to take in, from the lighthouse to the village, to landmarks such as Bickerton Island and the Fiddler, and to shoals such as Castor and Pollux. I had already seen most of these places from land, and now got to see them from the water, too. Some might argue there really wasn't more to see but that it only seemed that way because it was new and different. However, I'm certain there was both more and more interesting scenery in Port Bickerton, and you'll be hard pressed to convince me otherwise. Some of the scenery can be viewed in the image gallery a little further down this page.
I'm very grateful to Bruce, Brian, and Catlin for tolerating me and my camera, and for making me feel welcome, during those two trips.
This work was part of my artistic residency in Port Bickerton, NS, but it also forms a chapter of the Aboard the Irish Lass project.View Project