My name is Guy Johnston. I have been a fisherman for over 40 years. I fish by trap for prawns and shrimp, while I use hook and line to catch salmon, rockfish, and lingcod — all low-impact fishing methods.
I have been lucky to fish with my family for many years. My wife Michelle started fishing with me before our children were born. We fished with our son Sebastien when he was less than a year old — he learned to walk on the boardwalks of Namu, on the central coast. When my wife became pregnant with our daughter Rosalie, she said that I was on my own. Two kids under the age of three was way too much for a fishing boat. For several years, when the children were young, I fished close to Cowichan Bay as much as I could. As the children got older, I returned to fishing up north where I have fished most of my life.
Sebastien and Rosalie have been crew and fished with me since high school. This is a real treat for me. Fishing has helped both of them go to university. Sebastien is now working in the computer sciences and Rosalie has followed in Michelle’s footsteps and is working in the theatre in Toronto. They both continue to fish on the Michelle Rose from time to time.
A Community Supported Fishery
Many smaller fishing operations have been pushed out of the fishery over the past 15-20 years. The consolidation of markets and the influx of farmed fish have kept prices low, in some cases back to where they were 20 years ago. Add to this, the effects of climate change on fish habitat and high seas, feeding grounds, and the spread of farmed fish diseases, and we are seeing widespread hardship in the small-boat fleet. Yet it is the smaller, long-term, independent fishers who care most about ocean stewardship and maintaining a healthy and sustainable fishery.
A community-supported fishery is one way for me, as an independent fisherman, to remain viable, feed my family, and reduce the carbon footprint of my catch while selling direct to local people at a fair market price.
Where We Fish
We fish most of the coast of British Columbia. Having a freezer boat lets us go to where we think the best fishing will be. Most years, we fish for prawns at the north end of Vancouver Island and in central coast inlets.
We fish for prawns in the springtime for a couple of months, usually returning to Cowichan Bay by the end of June. We take a few days off, then rig the boat to troll for salmon. For salmon, we will fish anywhere from Johnstone Strait to the border of Alaska for sockeye, coho, pinks, and chum salmon.
We are usually gone for the summer salmon season from July to the end of August. The fall chum season in Johnstone Strait takes most of October. Unless we are doing some testing for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we are done by November, and it is time for a bit of a rest.
What Do We Fish and Have for the CSF?
- Available annually as shares:
- Salmon – coho, pinks, and sometimes sockeye
- Octopus by-catch
- Available some years as extras:
- King Shrimp, Ling Cod, Rock Fish, Chum Salmon
How We Store Our Catch
Michelle Rose seafood is frozen at sea at the time of capture to ensure we offer the highest quality product. Prawns and shrimp are packaged in one pound lots immersed in salt water and frozen. The salmon is dressed, frozen and glazed in chilled sea water for the freshest taste.
The Michelle Rose is my family’s boat, named after my wife and daughter. She was built in 1990 in Campbell River by the Goldrups, a well-known family of boat builders.
The Michelle Rose is a big small boat, packing 30% more fish than our old boat, while being about 8% more fuel efficient. The boat is set up to fish by trap for prawns and troll with hook and line for salmon. The catch is frozen on board allowing us to range the coast, fishing many different areas from right off Cowichan Bay up to Haida Gwaii.
Staying Busy in the Off-Season
Our work is not finished in the off-season. We just don’t get paid to do it! This is the time to refit and repair the boat, especially if we didn’t like how things were working, or we noticed an adjustment needed on the boat during the season. There are always pumps and belts and hoses that need tending to. It is easier to refurbish or replace something tied to the wharf in the winter than when out at sea.
Preventative maintenance is the rule, both for safety and to keep us fishing all season. I have my writing pad at hand to start designing what changes I want to make. Little on a fishing boat is stock off-the-shelf, so we design the equipment we need and then go to our local welders and machinists to get it built. By the time all is done, it is usually time to head back out for another fishing season.
Our Carbon Footprint
Recognizing the effects that climate change on the fishery, I believe it is important to make sure our boat uses as little fossil fuel as possible.
Working with T Buck Suzuki Environmental Organization‘s fuel efficiency guide, we incorporated as many of the energy efficiency recommendations from their guide as we could when we moved to the new (to us) Michelle Rose vessel:
- We added a bulbous bow to increase the waterline length and we have the most hydrodynamic bow possible.
- We extended the length in the stern by adding a tail fin that extends the length of the vessel aft (longer boats are more fuel efficient).
- The tail fin adds lift to the aft end of the boat increasing fuel savings.
- We haul the boat in our local Cowichan Bay shipyard for bottom painting and general maintenance every year to keep the hull as smooth and as hydrodynamic as possible.
- We tested and rebuilt fuel pump so it would be burning diesel fully and not sending some of it unburned up the exhaust.
- We partnered with T. Buck Suzuki Foundation we have installed a Flo-Scan fuel-monitoring system to help us understand how much fuel we are burning and what changes in operating and loading the boat have on how much fuel we burn.
- We installed a small diesel engine that will run our freezer system at night, so we can shut off the main engine (saving more fuel and my hearing).
- The CSF itself is a non-technical way of reducing our carbon footprint: selling fish locally instead of exporting it half-way around the world.
The Fishing Industry Today
Fishermen work with the natural environment daily and have faced the realities of a changing climate since the mid-1990s. Although salmon runs had been relatively predictable for 100 years, the seas and the fish in them were beginning to weave a different story.
Since the 1990s, fishermen noticed the size of fish runs and fish varied dramatically some years. There were several years in the early 2000s of unusually calm winters that slowed the mixing of deep-ocean nutrients crucial to feed young salmon. Weather patterns shifted far off their usual path causing warmer or colder weather. Storms became more intense and periods of calm would last much longer.
The fishing environment and expectations were constantly changing. Having experienced these changes during fishing seasons and having read about the effects greenhouse gases have upon our environment, I decided to look at how we could be part of the solution in our own small way.
In the fishing industry, we burn fossil fuels to run our boats and ship our catch to market, and there are ways we can reduce the size of our carbon footprint. The T Buck Suzuki Environmental
Organization helped us find technical solutions to make the Michelle Rose more environmentally efficient. With friends in our community of Cowichan Bay, we looked at adapting farming's community-supported agriculture (CSA) to the fishing industry (CSF). We talked with fishermen on the east coast where CSFs are more common and to local CSAs. With this local support our CSF was born.
Although the bulk of BC’s seafood gets exported, with the CSF we were able to sell more of our catch locally. This dramatically shortened the distance from catcher to consumer, and reduced our carbon footprint at the same time. It also gave me, my family, and crew another gift that we had not expected - a chance to get to know the people who actually eat our catch, and a chance to help build community here in Cowichan Bay and southern Vancouver Island, building bridges between local fishers and the community. This has allowed us to share information about fishing and climate change, ask for and give support to different community efforts, and create solutions together.