A fisherman’s work schedule does not follow any calendar. Fishermen do not get weekends off. Fishermen don’t get a 40 hour work week and they sure as hell don’t get paid overtime. Most fishermen are lucky if they get one lunch break in their 20 hour work day. If you are a fisherman your work schedule goes like this: if it’s fishing season, and the weather isn’t total crap, you will be on the water catching fish (or attempting to at least). Fishing continues until the season is over, or all the quota is caught.
Now, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. Most fishermen do not fish on Christmas day. Since Zed and I have been together he has never had to work on Christmas day. He has had to work the day before and the day after, but never the day of Christmas. Also, the birth of a baby is generally considered grounds for a short leave of absence (how short depends on the generosity of the skipper). We were lucky that the birth of our first baby happened between fishing seasons, and when our second baby was born Zed’s skipper gave him a whole month off.
But over the last eight years (that’s how long Zed and I have been together) we have spent many a birthday, holiday, and anniversary apart. This last year has been the hardest of all. Since purchasing our own fishing boat last October, Zed has spent nearly every day working. During this time period Zed has missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, our son’s 5th birthday, my (un-numbered) birthday, Valentine’s day, our anniversary, Mother’s day, and untold numbers of friend’s weddings, BBQs and other random celebrations. Add to this all those little moments, like the first lost tooth, or just a lazy summer day at the beach. And then last Friday Zed missed our son Atticus’s first day of kindergarten.
Just to be clear, I do not intend this as any sort of criticism of Zed as a parent or spouse, only as a demonstration of the sacrifices that a fisherman makes in order to support his family. I know that Zed deeply regrets his absences… He spent most of our son Larkyn’s first year of life in the Bering Sea crabbing and I think we can all agree, it was a miserable year that we wish we could get back somehow.
As a deckhand, Zed has zero say in when the boat leaves or comes home. As the captain of his own boat, Zed will have a little more control over his schedule. What is important to remember though, is that sometimes in fishing you only get short windows of opportunity where the fish are biting, or the crabs are the right size and in the right place and at the right time. The profits from a couple of weeks of fishing might be the majority of your earnings for the entire year. So, if you miss the peak of the season because you wanted to catch a school play or a soccer game, you could miss out on tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in earnings. This is just the way it is in fishing.
While I understand the necessity of Zed’s odd work schedule, it is difficult to explain to 4 and 5 year-olds. I try to tell our kids often, “Dad really wants to be here right now, but he has to catch fish so that we have a house to live in and food to eat”. It’s a harsh reality for little kids, but it is our reality nonetheless and I want our kids to understand that their dad is doing what he has to do, not what he wants to do. I want them to grow up appreciating the sacrifices that their dad is making. So far they seem to understand.
At this very moment Zed is somewhere off the Washington coast longlining for blackcod. He’s probably wet, cold, and covered in fish blood and slime – coming to the end of a 20 hour day on deck – maybe stumbling inside to eat dinner at midnight before crashing in his bunk for his two hours of sleep so he can wake up and do it all again. So, to my hard-working husband I say – sorry for all the moments you miss out on, and thank you for the sacrifices you make.