(Photo credit: Shaun Strobel. Image: Oliver filling slurry onto fishing boat Eldorado)

Not all economies run on dollars. This is especially true in community-based fishing. And I believe the lessons that kids learn growing up on the fishing grounds set them up for success in other realms of life, too.

For the second summer in a row, my oldest son, Oliver, has stepped up as a deckhand and has just arrived back this week from fishing with his father Shaun. At 16 years old in bulky rain gear and standing 5’8”, he can pass for a grown adult, even if his strength, knowledge, and skills can’t keep up with the older generation. Oliver has gotten the hang of the fact that, if you hang around and make yourself useful, sometimes you can make a little extra cash helping out. 

During an opening last summer, like many others, he did just that: hanging out on the dock, he saw a fisherman pull up to the winch ready to offload. Oliver jumped on the boat, climbed down into the hold, and started hand-bombing fish out of the slush ice and into a tote. The skipper was pleased to have Oliver’s help and, when the fish was unloaded, he turned around to thank Oliver. A look of surprise washed over his face when he realized that Oliver was just a kid, and he glanced a little nervously at Shaun and down at the 6-pack of beer he had retrieved from the boat to pay this helpful deckhand. He fumbled in his pocket and straightened out a rumpled $10 bill which he handed to Oliver instead. “Sorry, kid! I owe you more next time. I wasn’t prepared to pay a young guy like you,” he chuckled. Shaun laughed and Oliver thanked the fisherman anyway, telling him not to worry about it.

A short while later, when Shaun and Oliver were unloading their own boat, another fisherman came up with a bucket, looking eagerly at our full totes of ice, and gestured toward them with his bucket, a non-verbal request to borrow some ice. “Sure, help yourself,” Shaun called up to him. He eagerly dipped his bucket and ran off. A few minutes later, he returned with several more buckets and helped himself to more ice, smiling gratefully and nodding vigorous gratitude at Shaun. As the fisherman hustled off with his heavy loads of ice, Shaun thought to himself, “I hope that’s it! I won’t have much to spare if he comes back for more . . .”

(Photo credit: Shaun Strobel. Image: Shaun looks on as Oliver hand-bombs fish out of the hold and into the bin for weighing and offloading.)

A half hour or so later, Shaun glanced up from his work to see the ice-hungry fisherman return. But this time, he was carrying a 6-pack of beer which, smiling and nodding and bowing vigorously, he handed to Shaun, thanking him for the buckets of ice. Shaun laughed and thanked the fisherman for the gift, even though he really had no need of it. He tucked it into the tote of ice and answered Oliver’s puzzled questions about why fishermen pay in beer. “It’s the beer economy. It’s just kind of a thing on the fishing grounds, and in lots of working communities” Shaun explained. “And you don’t have to drink beer to be part of the economy. This might come in handy in some other way.”

When Shaun and Oliver had finished offloading their own boat, they were ready to get the totes of fish onto the Skipper Otto truck. The wharf was buzzing with activity, there was a long line to use the winch again, and the clock was ticking on their ferry reservation. It was then that Shaun remembered the beer. A few of the local dock workers were sitting on their forklift having a break. Shaun grabbed the 6-pack and approached the workers. “Would you be willing to pick up those two totes and pop them on that truck for me,” he asked, holding up the 6-pack as an offering. “On it,” one of the guys called as he jumped down from the lift, grabbed the 6-pack, and fired up the engine. The totes were on the truck within minutes and Shaun and Oliver were on their way to their ferry reservation.  

As they drove away, Shaun and Oliver talked about the nature of work and helping out, and expressions of gratitude and generosity in different settings. About economies of labour, not just dollars. Shaun told stories of when he was a kid in the 70’s, when the beer economy was thriving in the fishing communities all up and down the coast where he was fishing with his dad, Otto. And Otto taught Shaun many valuable lessons about jumping in to help out, bartering with beer or ice or tools or a meal. 

And I think Oliver learned an important lesson that day. A few days later at home, I watched as our boys demonstrated their own kind of currency: Oliver had been away fishing for several days and so Lyndon had needed to step in and take over Oliver’s most detested chore – scooping the cat litter. That evening, without a word exchanged between them, I watched Oliver unload the dishwasher after dinner – one of Lyndon’s least favourite daily chores. A small nod passed between them as Lyndon realized he was being repaid for scooping the cat litter. And Shaun and I exchanged a silent smile so as not to jinx this uncharacteristic moment of kindness and maturity between young brothers.

Written by: Sonia Strobel


Sonia - June 20, 2024

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Not All Economies Run on Dollars

Sonia - June 20, 2024

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