Legacy Part 04 – Rebekah Pesicka – Packing Boat Owner/Operator

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By Jason Murphy. First Published 21/01/2018

I’d never heard of anyone having a boat widened before.

This was my introduction to Rebekah Pesicka in Gus’s pub in Port McNeill. I found it difficult to imagine that doing such a thing would result in anything good. I was wrong.

Rebekah is an owner/operator of two boats based out of Sointula, East of PortMcNeil on Malcom Island. She invited me to photograph the unloading of her larger boat – a vessel that used to be her father's – at Port McNeil early one morning this January.

Early for me that is. Not for her or Luke her deck hand, or the shore crew of course.

Packing boats provide extra carrying capacity to the fleet. Assuming there are plenty of fish to catch (not always the case,) the amount of money any fishing vessel can make on any given day is restricted by its carrying capacity and the value of the species being targeted. Ideally, you want to maximize your carrying capacity and target high value species in order to maximize the overall value of the catch.

So it is worthwhile for fishing – or in this case – urchin harvesting vessels to pay for capacity on packing boats that they can transfer their overflow catch to. This allows them to maximize their take on a given day and return home safely.

Urchin harvesting can be a lucrative if physically demanding business. Boats deploy divers to scavenge for urchins which are brought aboard in net bags.

Japanese techniques for harvesting urchins using were introduced initially but divers here switched to scuba early on. Its an interesting example of a relatively lucrative way of making a living by taking a species that most agree is invasive and a threat to the marine ecosystem – urchins eat kelp, and kelp is good for the environment – as a nursery for small fish and as a sink for absorbing greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

After the unloading, Rebekah invited me aboard for breakfast and I talked with her and Luke about their lives and fishing industry in Coastal BC.

I asked Rebekah how it has been for her as a woman in what most would view as a masculine dominated industry. She told me that she had never had a problem getting respect as the daughter of a fisherman and that crews accepted her role as skipper because of her competence. In her experience, the fishing industry has been a meritocracy that has allowed her independence and success on her own terms.

The main subject of discussion though was the market for fishing licenses that she and Luke say are pricing locals out of the opportunity to become owner/operators. We also talked briefly about her view that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) could do better to enter into constructive dialog with fisherman rather than simply enforcing rules.

Luke expressed a similar view to Salmon Farm protestor Molina, that he and his generation were being priced out of the future by the high cost of entry into the industry.

Overall I was given a view of the life of someone working in the fishing industry as one built on uncertainty – a natural, even addicting aspect of the business that is being exacerbated by a market that has been created in the buying and selling of fishing licenses, doubt about the future of the ecosystem and government agencies with little interest in engaging with locals in the industry even if there were more of them to engage with.

Rebekah is also an artist with dreams of a Pacific coastal culture awakening – a roving arts and culture tour that will bind Pacific communities together.

The boat’s pilot house was a comfortable place to spend a cold morning talking about all this. A place of work humanized by long use as a refuge from the elements, and Rebekah and Luke’s warm hospitality.

Rebekah’s other boat is a shrimp boat – something I want to learn more about. I'm looking forward to catching up with her again.