A-Float with the Fishers

25 September 2017 – Lordy, I don’t even know what to call the thing, as I walk through the pretty-pretty archway and start down a distinctly grubby (OK, well-used) incline.

Wharf? Dock?

The archway spells out “Fisherman’s Wharf,” but what does it know? Looks like a whole other world down below. Boat after boat, each with a stall on the walkway and most with plastic tarps overhead.

I’m in Steveston Village, ‘way down on the South Arm of the Fraser River in Richmond. It has a long history as a centre for fishing and related occupations: boat-building, ship-building and, especially, canneries. In the 1890s it was home to a good half of the 45 canneries that then lined this river shoreline.

One cannery left, now a Parks Canada National Historic Site (Gulf of Georgia Cannery). No more ship or boat building.

But fishing? Oh yes.

So here I am on the float. For commercial fishers.  (That photo-opp archway, all set for tourist selfies, may still assign gender to the occupation, but the Steveston Harbour Authority knows better.)

I am in a happy state of pure ignorance. I no more understand this world than I would understand a souk in Marrakech, should I be plonked down in one.

So I have a wonderful time, just observing. I watch knowledgable customers ask their questions, make their choices …

and I listen to a woman, clearly as ignorant as I, stare at a fish and ask, in a voice of stunned disbelief, “What is that?”

“Dog fish,” is the laconic answer. She moves on.

Would she have been more impressed had she also been told that it looks like a teeny little shark because it is a teeny little shark? Squalus Acanthius, I later read online, one of the most abundant species of shark in the world.

But I don’t know this yet. So I too move on, and pay attention to the signs right there on the float.

I begin to realize just how much information we are being given.

Where they fish, for example, and how to reach them to talk about it.

And lots more information than that.

Stall after stall, the same data board, with every category filled in: name of the vessel, location fished, fish caught, when, harvesting method …

Many other signs too, ones not required by the authorities, to help us learn more, make good choices …

including good choices for the planet.

Along with all the hand-lettered signs, this official warning, up and down the float.

I blink. Are the Marine Mammals authorities serious? Never mind threatening me with a $100,000 fine, offer me that much instead, and you still couldn’t get me to go near a sea lion.

Boat names ring like a litany in my head. Silver Dragon, Ocean Odyssey, La-Barka, Autumn Venture, Norse Provider

I turn down another alley on the float, drawn by the crowd around one boat and its stall. They in turn have been drawn by this promise of a catch that nobody else has on offer:

I wriggle through, hip this way & elbow that, murmuring apologies as I go. I want to see the sea urchins! And I do.

The lady with dollar-bills in her hand is thinking how delicious they will be. I stand there thinking how beautiful they are.

No meeting of minds there, so I turn away.

And discover that, when it comes to foodstuffs, I am in perfect harmony with a pair of toddlers.

Back up the incline I go, to the line of waterfront shops.

Truth is, I don’t buy strawberry ice cream after all. Or even a latte. I order a fresh salmon burger — and it is good beyond your wildest imagining.

Leave a comment


  1. Oh, I love this post. But then I love all your posts. Your perceptions make me smile. Not tempted to eat an urchin? When we first moved down here you’d often see Asian holidaymakers on the rocks hunting for sea urchins, but I haven’t been tempted. They are beautiful aren’t they, and so are heir spineless shells. Your narrative skills are superlative. I’d love to know what you’d make of a walk on my headland. I might try to write it à la you, sometime. No signs or people to amuse. I wonder!

  2. Loved this post! So many interesting things to see and learn about. So caught by the “fishers” sign too!

  3. Thanks for the tour!


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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