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Fishing for a Living: Pulls it all in
When you next look at the fishing boats tied up to the government warf in Campbell River, Alan Haig-Brown, the author of Fishing for a Living, wants you to see more than just fishing technology. He wants you to see symbols of family histories, courageous acts, immigrants' dreams and Firrst Nations hopes.

“What I really look forward to is non-fishermen reading it and walking down there and knowing what they are looking at and appreciating what they are looking at, not just as marvels of design and technology but also as symbols of immigrants dreams and First Nations people's dreams," Haig-Brown said. The owners of those boats worked them and named them for their daughters and their kids grew up on them, Haig-Brown said.

"They mean a lot to the people who own them," he said. Haig-Brown's Fishing for a Livingis a beautiful, spectacularly laid out book that chronicles the fishing industry on B.C.'s coast and the boats and people that made it an innovative and prosperous industry. But Haig-Brown wants to get across that what makes the book relevant is the stories of the people who actually worked the fishing boats and the industry.

"It's not just d history book," he said. No, it's notjust a history book. Nor is it just a book about people. It's also a book about fishing boat design, institutionalized racism, resource management and corporate greed. The book is rooted in Haig-Brown's own attachment to the fishing industry and the Campbell River waterfront. On a stormy December day last week he talked of failing Grade 4 because he was continually staring out at the spectacular view of Discovery Passage from the old Campbell River School (where Phoenix Junior High is now located).

When he was 18, he would hang about Skip MacDonald’s old Bee Hive Restaurant and watch the fishing fleet come in and out.

He remembers seeing the huge seiners time to of the ‘50s and ‘60s with their “classic expansive ‘50s design.”

Seeing one of those beauties pulling into the docks was like seeing a big old Buick rolling into town.
The sense of a fishing community Haig-Brown tries to get across in his book is illustrated by his own start in the industry. In the summer of 1960, his father-in-law Herb Assu saw the newest edition to the family hanging around doing nothing gand felt it time to get this young man some gainful employment. He took him out on the 77-foot San Jose which caught sockeye. Haig-Brown, meanwhile, caught 'sockeye fever' and has been in love with the fishing industry and the boats ever since.

Haig-Brown got a jump start on his fishing training through the high-calibre crew he worked with later that first year. The fishing companies used to crew their herring seiners with their best salmon skippers so that they could keep their best men in work year-round. Haig-Brown was thrown onto one of those star-studded crews and got quite the education.

"They taught me a lot," he said. Haig-Brown also learned that he wasn't really a fisherman made for dancing with the waves in Hecate Strait on a January' sea so he eventually returned to school to get his Grade 12 and a Bachelor of Education. Each summer though, he returned to fish.

"Fishing paid my way through school," he said.

He seined salmon and herring until 1973 before serving 11 years as: coordinator of Indian education in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, working to get Native languages into the public school curriculum.

Returning to the coast in 1986, Haig-Brown started the West Coast Fisherman. He later added to his publishing exploits, West Coast Mariner and West Coast Logger.

Also around that time, Haig-Brown began compiling the material for what would eventually become “Fishing for a Living."

“I started to see some of the really classic fishing boats disappear," he said, and wondered how they could be remembered.

The spirit of the boats has stayed with Haig-Brown all these years. The intensity experience of riding a south easter in one of them and hearing the timbers creak instils a respect for the boats and the people who have shared that experience.

Haig-Brown's research began with interviews with Charlie Clarke who was born in Washington State in 1897 and grew up in Port Alberni. Clarke started fishing spring salmon out of a dugout canoe.

Speaking with Clarke lead to Dick Anzulovich and Loihe Percich, Croatians, who arrived in Canada in the 1920s.

His discussions with these ethnic groups were supplemented with the stories of the Kwagiulth people of northern Vancouver Island.

"Then I had to work a little bit harder to get to know the Japanese Canadians,” he said. It was these ethnic groups that brought the design innovations that made B.C. boats the best in the world, Haig-Brown said.

The boats and the life on them enthralls Haig-Brown, particularly the sense of independence the boats gave their skippers. Yes, a skipper would sell his catch to the packing companies, but once "that guy casts off the line, he is a CEO.”

Fishing for a Living focuses mainly on the seining industry because that is what Haig-Brown knows. It is full of people and stories that Haig-Brown was afraid would be lost.

In Haig-Brown's own words from the preface, "This book is the result of a three-decade infatuation with fishing boats and fishing people. In spite of an ugly underbelly of racism and resource abuse, the industry has produced some beautiful boats and has rewarded its people with lives filled with dignity.

"I am proud to have shared in the experience and humbled by the stories that have been given to me to tell."
-Allistair Taylor, Campell River Mirror


For love of fishing
The author, Alan Haig-Brown, is also the editor of the Westcoast Fisherman, which specializes in a mix of business-oriented articles and advertisements. It is a successful format that has been extended to several magazines on industries; much the same design is being used for this volume, with the omission of the advertising. The result is a well-produced volume that speaks evocatively to people who have participated in the fishing industry; and which will deservedly be a popular gift for people who care about fishing.

The flavor is evident in the captions of the over 200 photographs: "...In this photo from 1946, Oscar Lewis’ Cape Mudge crew broils salmon aboard the Departure Bay No. 5 while Robert Clifton Sr. of Comox works with his crew to haul back the seine on the Kwatsu." The photographs are well-selected to illustrate the dramatic evolution of the industry during this century.

While Fishing For a Living can be read and enjoyed for the colorful stories and interesting photographs and architectural plans for various vessels that fill its pages, it also presents a perspective on the social history and demography of the west coast fishing industry within the 37 brief chapters on representative fishers past and present.

Haig-Brown's book will find a wide audience and his readers will enjoy a good read. My copy will passed along to a fisher whose boat is pictured, and I know it will be a prized memento.
-Margaret Anderson, Prince George Citizen

CDN Book Review Annual
This is an engaging account of the boats and people employed in the fishing business on the B.C. coast. Far from a dry historical or statistical chronicle of the events of the last hundred years, it is written with great affection by an author who has drawn on his long association with West Coast commercial fishing. The three dozen or so chapters describe the elements that constitute what could be called the fishing industry, except that "industry" is hardly the best term. It is, rather, a way of life, as this book amply demonstrates.

Fishing, whether for salmon, halibut, or herring, appears to be based on a symbiotic relationship involving boat-building yards, the boats themselves, and the packing companies that buy the catches. But even more, it involves people: fishermen-and a few women-who have a strong sense of individualism as well as the fortitude to face the dangers of a demanding occupation. The author has interviewed families involved in fishing for several generations, has listened to one skipper telling how he brought home a record catch and another describe how his boat sank, has questioned boat builders about their construction methods, and has faithfully recorded their stories. One owner states that "a boat is just a piece of equipment, a bunch of nails and a few planks." He obviously spoke in jest; one thing that the book makes clear is that the boats possess distinctive personalities and that often a bond unites boat and skipper.

Haig-Brown writes with an easy style, seldom lapsing into the technical jargon of the fishing trade, thus making his handsome book accessible to a wide audience. The 200 photographs illustrate every aspect of fishing; it is particularly gratifying to note the remarkably high quality of their reproduction.
-Gordon Turner