At Sea with 6 year old Rex Martinelli

Allison Hepworth - May 22, 2024

bc fishing fishing family fishing season life at sea lingcod lingcod fishing sustainable seafood

Every year, we eagerly anticipate stories from sea by our fishing family Bruce and Pilar Martinelli featuring their 6 year old son Rex. Together they ventured out, off the coast of Vancouver Island in search of lingcod recently, and here in Pilar’s own words is a rare glimpse of what life is like with children onboard an active fishing boat:

Rex boards the Tantrum as a six-year young boy, just as enthusiastic and excited as ever. He knows this place as his second home and he is more than comfortable with life at sea with his family.

Prior to leaving, I asked him, “What is it that you are most excited about going fishing this year?”

His answer: “That we will all be together.”

It’s not at all the answer I expected, but as a parent, it sure did make my heart sing. The Tantrum time for him is about family, about all of us together in one 50-ft space. Dad doesn’t go anywhere for work. Mom doesn’t have any outside obligations. It means togetherness for him. No wonder he loves it so much!

When it comes to fishing time, just after the crack of dawn, Rex is eager to step right in and help Dad and the crew, but needs a little (actually a lot) of assistance from Mom. It’s no easy feat to dress for the deck with the many layers, ending with two pairs of gloves and a snug life vest! I’d say it ranks up with dressing a child for outdoor winter activities…except that you are wrangling a kid into all of these clothes while keeping your balance on a moving floor. Fun times indeed!

(Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinelli: Rex dipping and passing the slippery lingcod)

Once he is ready, he’s on deck and heading to the stern to help Dad. With his stepping stool in place to give him a boost, he is in position to help bring the fish on board, one heave at a time. Rex’s enthusiasm is right there when Dad lands the first fish in the checker. When it comes to bonking the fish on the head, he has plenty of strength, but the wiggling and twisting fish hampers the accuracy of his “kill shot.” Too bad. He quickly relinquishes the bonker to the experienced Mom or Maximus (who is our trusted deckhand), knowing that his time will come. He’s smart enough to know his limitations and knows that there needs to be a quick and humane end to a fish’s life. He also knows enough to say “pass” on the task of bleeding a fish using a very sharp, serrated knife. Rex’s experience with knives at this point doesn’t extend beyond butter knives and kids’ chop wedges. If he had grown up living off the land, he’d surely be better with his knife skills, but in our world, we just aren’t there yet. The cut to the gill is in a sharp upwards motion and then a downwards jerk, all done in a relatively tight space… just beyond what our young six-year old can realistically do.

Next in line is the de-heading, gutting, and cheeking, also requiring sharp knife skills. Pass, pass, and pass. However, there is one step along the way that Rex finds entertaining: the guts. Gooey, squishy, bloody fish guts make a perfect snack for birds. With tasty treats in hand, he can bestow generosity upon his feathered followers and watch them feast in the water behind the boat, a spectacle that delights the nature lover in Rex.

Then comes the dreaded scraping – what I think to be the toughest task in the line. Maximus is tough and strong, but even I cringe watching his wrists repeat over and over the action required to rid the cavities of any blood and bits. It’s definitely beyond the capacities of our kid and if I am honest, I am not sure the mother in me ever wants to see my baby’s wrist ligaments endure that stress over and over for weeks on end. Maximus never complains. He’s too stoic. But I would guess the pain wakes him up at times. Thank goodness that the work is seasonal!

(Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinelli: Rex with freshly caught lingcod, with Bruce beside him)

The final stop for the ling cod on the first day is the scrub before being laid upon the freezer plates. This job does call to a child who loves water. With a little encouragement and assistance, Rex and I take on the job of scrubbing the 30-ish fish of any last little hang-ons before they head to their spots on the freezer plates for the night. The trickiest part is handling the slippery fish with somewhat slippery gloves on a moving boat. With my help holding the fish, he’s keen to scrub. This lasts for about 7 mins before he is bored with it, but we persevere and get the job done in about three times the amount of time that it would take the Mighty Maximus. And then Rex is done for the day. Time to go inside, Mom.

(Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinelli: Family photo of Pilar, Bruce and Rex Martinelli from recent lingcod trip in May 2024)

The next day brings the part in which Rex does shine in his abilities–dipping and passing. After the ling cod sit overnight on the freezer plates, they are cold dipped for their final glaze (to help preserve the freshness of the fish in storage) and moved to the fish hold for stacking. At this point, they are frozen solid and gone is the slipperiness that makes the fresh fish so tough to handle. Our strong boy is more than capable and very much willing to step in and help dip the fish and pass them down to Maximus in the fish hold. The weight’s no problem on these 10 lb average fish and he quite enjoys being part of the team in a job that he excels at.

Go, Rexie, go!

Written by: Pilar Martinelli


(Photo courtesy of Pilar Martinelli: Rex Martinelli driving dingy with their fishing boat: Tantrum No.1, in the background)

Allison Hepworth - May 22, 2024

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At Sea with 6 year old Rex Martinelli

Allison Hepworth - May 22, 2024

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