Daring  Fishing  Revelations   

                                                                                By David Orton

        Sea of Heartbreak: The Extraordinary Account Of A Newfoundland Fishing
        Voyage  by Michael J. Dwyer, with a foreword by Farley Mowat. Key Porter Books,
        Toronto, Canada, 2001, paperback, ISBN 1-55263-303-9

           "My estimate was that for every pound of turbot that we threw in the tank,
           we dumped fifty pounds of dead, dying and dismembered fish, shellfish and
           birds back into the sea."  p. 146

        Sea of Heartbreak by Michael Dwyer is an explosive, powerful, and needed book.
    It shows, from personal experience on an offshore fishing vessel, that going fishing for
    turbot with gill nets is to participate in a marine massacre. Dwyer's personal environmental
    ethics perhaps might be designated as a form of "progressive anthropocentrism." He is not
    opposed to killing wildlife for a living, e.g. fishing, or hunting for food. As he puts it:
        "It is a difficult divide to carry in your soul - that you must kill creatures to eke out
        a living and yet respect then enough not to kill them for sport or pleasure alone."
        (p. 97)

        Along with seven other crewmen, the author, a Newfoundlander, signed on to go fishing
    for turbot with gill nets, aboard a 65-foot steel trawler, the Styx, in northern Labrador in
    the fall of 1998. Although he notes that dragger crews often make more than $80,000 a
    season, one ironic outcome of this trip is that the author made no money, because of poor
    catches. The enforced 'culture' of the boat was a strange mixture, that included lots of hymn
    music, no swearing or drinking on board, but the common belief that anything in sight could
    be shot. But it was more than shooting. Offshore seabirds called "noddies," such as Atlantic
    fulmars, were caught and deliberately tortured, by smearing them with turbot liver oil and
    then tossing these birds overboard to be pecked to death by other sea birds. A definition of
    "garbage" by a crew member to Dwyer, is:
            "'Garbage is anything that comes in over the side that we don't ice down in the
            hold. On this voyage, anything but number one turbot is garbage.'" (p. 23)

        After reading this account about what Dwyer calls "our ship of death" (p. 191), it becomes
    clear that a civilization with such a profligate attitude towards the non-human inhabitants of
    the marine world does not deserve to survive. In some sense writing this book could be seen
    as a form of absolution for the author, for the obvious guilt he felt about being on such a trip.
    He had to observe:
        - The 'routine' discarding of the gill net by-catch - the approximate fifty pounds of
    discarded sea creatures for every pound of the desired "number one" turbot;
        - The shooting of seagulls, murres, whales, seals, and polar bears - one of the shooting
    crew members told Dwyer that dead whales make large crabs;
        - The  leaving of nets which continued "ghost fishing" - nets which could not be retrieved
    because of rough seas;
        - The throwing overboard of garbage and old torn fishing nets.
    As Dwyer says on the next to last page, describing crew members shooting murres, as the
    vessel approaches home port:
        "Greg and Todd fired off the last of their ammo, making whatever came within shot pay
    with their very lives. I couldn't wait for this to be over. I couldn't wait to tell." (p. 203)

        The author now drives a truck for a living, but he has also been a sealer. (He recorded his
    sealing experiences in an earlier book, Over the Side, Mickey.) Farley Mowat, who has
    written the foreword to Sea of Heartbreak, says that with this book Michael Dwyer "has
    done what no other commercial fisherman in Atlantic Canada has dared to do." (p. 11)
    It took a lot of courage to write it and name names, because it could lead to the author being
    run out of Newfoundland. Yet he took this particular fishing trip because of needing a job
    and being hounded by bill collectors.

        This book is a good antidote to myths concerning the romanticization of those who fish for
    a living, prevalent, in my experience, on the East Coast of Canada, among a number of
    groups: among fisher representatives themselves, e.g. "the track record of fishermen making
    sacrifices for conservation is solid"; among many mainstream environmentalists, who seem
    afraid to say anything critical about fishermen, in case they rock the boat of existing or
    potential coalitions (for example, against the oil and gas industry, or for marine protected
    areas); and among the social justice Left - with their tendency to eulogize inshore fishermen
    and the unions of fishers and plant workers. But a radical ecocentric consciousness informed
    by deep ecology, has a basic belief that the ecological community forms the ethical
    community. Left biocentrism, the left tendency within deep ecology, has a concern also for
    social justice, but this is in a context which places the well-being of the Earth first. We need
    honesty, not self imposed blinders. Social justice for fishers, as for aboriginals, is part of a
    wider justice, required for ALL marine and terrestrial life forms. It must be rooted in a
    profound respect for all life, and nor just human life.

        In my view there is plenty of evidence, for those who want to look, that treating nature as
    a "resource" for human and corporate consumption can desensitize fishers, loggers, or
    farmers. This book is not an indictment of all fishermen, and gives examples of those who
    speak out against the "sport" or "pleasure" killing of marine creatures. Yet Dwyer does speak
    of "the thoughtless cruelty of many of my fellow islanders who lived from the sea."
    (p. 97)

    Common ground?
        There cannot be coalitions of fishers, environmentalists and others, at the expense of the
    Earth or nonhuman life forms. We have to change our consciousness in how humans relate
    to the natural world. In the industrial fishery, it is not just corporate domination that needs
    to be opposed. Fishers, like loggers, find it hard to rise above self interest. Marine coalitions
    cannot mean trading one's moral integrity in the interests of a false unity and just concentrating
    on the practical task at hand, because someone may be offended if the truth is spoken. Sea
    of Heartbreak will help radical environmentalists to speak the truth when building marine

        Although a handful of East Coast fishermen have been at the foreground in the fight to
    protect deep sea corals, to oppose dragging the sea bottom and other gear-type and
    corruption issues, the claim that there is a conservation track record by fishers is highly
    inaccurate. Leaving these progressive efforts aside, the general claim to caring about
    conservation rests on carrying out certain measures to protect an anthropocentric and
    economic self-interest in the fishery. The dark side illustrated by Dwyer is seldom
    mentioned publicly by fishermen.

        For those seeking fundamental change, it is essential to see that fishers, like loggers,
    have come to have a stake in the continuation of industrial capitalist society, with its
    destructive lifestyle. For example, inshore lobster fishermen can 'sell' their lobster licenses
    for hundreds of thousands of dollars when they choose to retire, illustrating quite graphically
    how a so-called common fishery has essentially been privatized. Fishers, including those in
    the inshore smaller boat fishery, have a real stake in the present industrial model, whatever
    the anomalies that cause dissatisfaction from time to time. Basic values are accepted, and
    fisher interventions generally seek to work with, not take down, the system's political and
    economic leaders and their version of capitalist democracy. When fishers finally speak out
    publicly for the protection of ALL marine species, including seals, cormorants, dogfish and
    the diminishing bluefin tuna, and call for extensive no-take marine protected areas, then the
    assertion of a conservation track record could be seen as accurate.

        This book, I believe, as well as describing a voyage of ecological destruction, also can
    serve to raise theoretical issues for consideration among radical environmentalists. It deserves
    to be widely read, and is movingly dedicated by Dwyer, "to the creatures mentioned within."

                                                                                                        September 1, 2001

           Published in Synthesis/Regeneration 28, Spring 2002,  http://www.greens.org/s-r/

                                        * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


        Over The Side Mickey: A sealer’s first hand account of the Newfoundland
        seal hunt, by Michael J. Dwyer. Nimbus Publishing Ltd, Halifax, Canada, 1998,
        paperback, ISBN 1-55109-253-0

        I read the above book after reading Sea of Heartbreak. I had a lot of trouble obtaining
    Over The Side Mickey and finally managed to obtain it, after writing my commentary on
    Dwyer’s most recent book and posting it on the internet. What struck me in Over The Side
    Mickey, was the backwardness of Dwyer’s attitude towards wildlife - here seals - as
    contrasted with the views expressed in the later book, Sea of Heartbreak. So, unless Dwyer
    had some kind of environmental “conversion” between the writing of the two books, something
    is not quite right here.

        The sealing vessel, written about in Over The Side Mickey, was a sixty-foot long-liner,
    which went on a trip into heavy ice off Twillingate in Newfoundland, in April of 1997. The
    author writes as an integral part of the crew. He recounts well the disgusting, dangerous and
    hard life of sealers. Seals are shot from the sealing vessel and then retrieved by one of the
    crew members going on to the pan ice and bringing the seal back on board. There is also
    some hunting from a small motor boat carried on board, when the weather permits. The main
    tension on the ship, as described by the author, is between the skipper and his son on one
    side, and the rest of the crew members. Apart from the uneven financial rewards, neither the
    skipper nor his son do any of the dirty and hard work of retrieving the seals, butchering the
    seal carcasses, and stowing these and the furs below decks. Dwyer quotes a Newfoundland
    saying that serves to bring out the class differences between skipper and crew: “It’s a swell
    ship for the skipper but it’s a ‘hell ship’ for the crew.”

        Seals are described in denigrating terms by Dwyer and are commonly spoken of as eating
    “our” fish - meaning that the fish are seen as ‘belonging’ to fishermen.. (See for example, pp.
    62 and 88.) Crew members mouth slogans like “Take no prisoners! Shoot to kill!” (p. 103)
    Referring to the killing of harp seals which had been shot, Dwyer says, “I viciously bashed in
    their skulls with my gaff.” (p. 51) He does not express any disapproval of the “harvesting” of
    seal penises, which have to be 6 inches long or more, and earn an average of 70 dollars each.
    (p. 73) Sealers are described as “barbarians” and the author says, “If you didn’t become
    barbaric, you didn’t last.” (p. 112) He shows that many seals were not killed instantly by
    shooting, but were still alive when being butchered on deck. Dwyer’s book lends support to
    the view that I share, that it is the killing of the seals itself which is barbaric. It will turn those
    who do the killing into modern day barbarians.

        The disgust that Dwyer expresses in Over The Side Mickey is personal. It is the last time
    he will go seal hunting, we are told. But his disgust at the atrocious hardships faced by crew
    members is quite divorced from any identification with the hunted seals or more generally with
    wild Nature. The modern day annual seal slaughter (“hunt”) is seen by many, including myself,
    as an enormous crime against wildlife, perhaps without parallel in our contemporary world. As
    I have written elsewhere (see Green Bulletin #68 on Ecofascism), “There seems to be a hatred
    directed towards seals (and those who defend them), which extends from sealers and most
    fishers, to the corporate components of the fishing industry and the federal and provincial
    governments, particularly the Newfoundland and Labrador government... The seals become
    scapegoats for the collapse of the ground fishery, especially cod. A vicious government-
    subsidized warfare, using all the resources of the state, becomes waged on seals.”  But
    Dwyer, according to this book, sees none of this.

                                                                                                            September 29, 2001

    Published in Synthesis/Regeneration 28, Spring 2002, http://www.greens.org/s-r/
    Also printed in The Northern Forest Forum, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 2001.

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