SUMMERSIDE – The Gulf of St. Lawrence crab fishery was delayed, and the catch limit has been decreased by 12.5 per cent this year. Those limits imposed, a young seafarer used his initiative to secure an immediate start to a sustainable career on the water.
Eighteen-year-old William Gunning, of Summerside, signed on with the 65-foot crab boat White Diamond and has already started a three-month season on the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland and Labrador.
His path to the water was somewhat rocky, but he has made it work.
He described his situation with a common, contemporary refrain of making the “unfortunate mistake” of dropping out of high school, before realizing that wasn’t the case at all.
"Obviously, it's not that unfortunate any more. I went out fishing scallops, and I fell in love with the sea. The rough water doesn't bother me. Just... everything about the sea is peaceful, and it's perfect," he said.
Gunning could hardly manage all he had to say on the matter, bursting with the excitement of his switch from the Northumberland Strait to the open ocean.
He pointed to nearby Queen's Wharf while interjecting " That's my boat over there, the blue one... well, my captain's boat; it'll be mine someday, hopefully."
Serendipity seems to favour Gunning. His current opportunity was netted from a simple helping hand. Being around the wharf, Gunning helped the crew of the White Diamond unload some crab pots last summer. Mutual acquaintance with a local coffee-shop owner led to learning that captain David McIsaac was looking for another crew member.
“I pursued the job, fairly hard, and I got (it)," Gunning recalled.
He had fished a little in New Brunswick, but the White Diamond tour will be his first major foray into a larger-scale fishery and marine environment. Over the winter, Gunning also attended the Holland College Marine School in Summerside to further his opportunities in his happenstance career.
He recognizes his youth and inexperience will mean his role on the White Diamond will entail anything the crew needs him to do, but his excitement is evident.
"I just like to work. I'm learning off a great crew: they're all really experienced; they're all great, and easy to get along with. It should be a fun three months, for sure!"
Regardless of enthusiasm, he is grounded as to the realities of being on a 65-foot boat with five other crewmembers and a fisheries monitor, for three months. The season will entail about 11 trips back and forth, about 300km each way between the international waters on the tail of the Grand Banks and the port of St. John’s, for unloading catches and re-provisioning.
"Obviously we're going to have problems (as close quarters would produce anywhere). The difference is we can't just walk away from the problem: we have to deal with it; settle it; shake on it. It's over, and then we get back to work," he said.
It's not something that he talked over with crew members; Gunning expects that they all have similar viewpoints and respect the jobs they are doing.
"We just can't be out here horsing around, right. Like... we're out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: it's dangerous work," he evaluated, though still certain that the experience would entail what he considered "fun" as well.
After his tour on the White Diamond, he would like to get on a big, off-shore scallop boat, and says McIsaac has already indicated he would make inquiries for him.
He is also planning to use his marine training to advance his seafaring.
"I want to go and get on a cargo ship, or something like that, and work my way up to Master Mariner," he said, inspired by his cousin, Steve MacFarlane, who is in charge of the Marine Training Centre.