I want to get to know maritime people. I grew up with farmers and, even though I now live in a large city, I have a great deal of respect for farmers. Similarly, I think I would like to get to know fishermen, tugboat operators, and sailors. The few I have met show that same hard-working, willing-to-get-the-job-done attitude I have seen in farmers.

A few months ago I had the chance to visit with John Jenkins, a tuna fisherman who, when he is not at sea, lives in Metchosin, BC. For many years he fished for salmon until it looked like the salmon on the west coast would be depleted. He and his son converted their boats to reel and tackle systems suitable for tuna and now go out for these big fish for a portion of the year. He spoke of agreements between the United States and Canada that set limits on where each country’s boats can fish and the challenges of international agreements. He spoke of long times at sea perhaps as much as 200 miles offshore and three months at a time. He spoke of how a captain must always be in control of his boat and can never truly get a good night of sleep without one eye open watching for trouble.

His big boat has a hold that is equipped with a compressor system that allows him to flash-freeze the tuna at minus 70 degrees. The fish have to be handled and working in this kind of cold is demanding work. Then there is the danger of the sea, the possibility of collisions at night, and the chance of onboard fires. These hard-working people are an inspiration to me. This may be one of the reasons Jesus chose so many fishermen to be his first followers. Think about these people the next time you enjoy your favourite fish at a restaurant or sit down to a tuna sandwich.

Billy Joel captured some of the joys and struggles of the contemporary fisherman in his song “Downeaster Alexa.” Enjoy the words of his song or watch the video.

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