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Review in The Fisherman

Some time ago, Pat Wastell Norris phoned me with a few questions about the fishing industry for a book she said she was writing. We talked briefly about salmon and seine boats and she said the book would probably be out in about a year. That book is High Boats and it hit the stores last month.

High Boats is, above all, about the people who have made a life for themselves fishing in and around the upper portion of Johnstone Strait. From the beginning of the 20th century and throughout the golden age of fishing, the geographical, economic and cultural centre of that "Upper Straits" fishing community was Alert Bay.

The narrative revolves around a last trip taken aboard the Alert Bay seiner, May S, by its skipper, Dave Huson and his longtime friend and deck-mate, Barry McClung.

Interspersed throughout this trip (from the Bay to Victoria Harbour)are stories about the early colonization of Alert Bay and surrounding area, the development of a canning industry and the astonishing growth and even dual decline of the commercial salmon fishery in that part of the world.

Having lived in the Bay in the mid ’70s I found much in the book I could relate to. People I know and boats I worked on are all mentioned here. But it seemed a bit unsettling that relatively recent events are now being viewed through an "historical lens” suggesting that a way of life that provided a living to so many people for so many years may be coming to an end. Numerous photos, scattered throughout the book, seem to underline the point.

It’s not surprising, then, that the next to last chapter of the book deals with the advance of salmon farming in the area.

Norris writes about how the public was initially assured that any Atlantic salmon “escapes” would not result in that species gaining a permanent foothold in BC waters. But at the same time, federal documents from as early as 1991 warned how it would be only a matter of time before that would occur.

High Boats is a good read for anyone, but especially for those familiar with the salmon industry and the culture surrounding it. . . .
Bruce Logan, The Fisherman