As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As this week’s lectionary readings tell about the fishing families of Galilee, Wild Lectionary talked to ‘Nagmis fisherman Arthur Black. The ‘Namgis First Nation take their name from a halibut-like sea creature who saved a lone human during a flood when water covered the whole world. We asked Arthur to talk to people of faith about fishing on the West Coast of British Columbia and the threats to wild salmon which have been a staple food and source of wealth and culture for indigenous people in this region for millennia.
Wild Lectionary: Can you talk about fishing in your family?
Arthur Black: I am a fourth generation commercial native fisherman, my kids and grandchildren fish commercially with me on our vessel. Growing up I fished on my grandfather’s boat; when I started skippering boats my great-grandfather Harry Brown came out of retirement and fished with us till his passing in1987.
WL: And what kind of fish?
AB: We have been involved in numerous commercial fisheries, from south east Alaska salmon, prawns, BC salmon, herring, Washington state salmon, crabs, sardines off the coast of Oregon.
WL: Do you think people of faith need to be concerned about fish and the loss of fish stocks and habitat in BC?
AB: You should be very concerned, polluting fish farms in open ocean pens haven’t worked in other parts of the world, like Norway, Mexico. As the farms have increased in numbers, the natural salmon stocks have decreased at a similar rate, and other species have been affected. There is a gross over population of seals and sea lions on the whole Pacific coast, they are being reported in spawning beds eating the eggs, and the bellies of passing fish. Many years back they would put a bounty on them to bring their population down. These are not small, they are taking over docks.
The twining of the Kinder Morgan trans mountain pipeline, and the placement of anti-spawning material in spawning beds is illegal but no charges were laid.
Four years ago on the river there was a large mine tailings spill but there is exactly no mention of it in media or charges laid.
There is a large commercial sport fisheries in our province that is running unregulated. That puts a lot of pressure on weak fish stocks. To me, it is not sport if you charge or rely on money and many native groups have expressed similar or the same concerns.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been siding with the large corporate companies’ interests. A loop-hole has allowed non-Canadian companies to own and rent out licences and quota, these companies own and control the majority of the industry. My fishing friends, we are very concerned, as everyone else should be also.
Arthur Brown is a forth generation commercial fisherman, a father and a grandfather. He is a member of the ‘Nagmis First Nation on Northern Vancouver Island and lives off reserve.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.