Neil Blackett stands at the helm of his boat. The veteran fisherman has been fishing lobster for more than 30 years and is anticipating a good catch this year. Morgan Campbell photo.
By Morgan Campbell
April 21, 2021
When Islander Neil Blackett started fishing lobster he used a $1500 wooden boat. It could barely float and had no electronics. His dad had fished too, and he eventually passed the family business on to his sons.
These days, he captains a $500,000 fibreglass boat with the latest in GPS technology. Setting day has changed a lot over the years, but surprisingly little has changed during the pandemic.
Social distancing is unrealistic on crowded fishing boats, the only difference is less people around the wharf. The biggest challenge came last year. Setting day was delayed two weeks. The fisherman found out only five days before they were meant to go out.
“I was very frustrated.”
This year, everything seems to be going to plan, and Blackett is optimistic.
“It’s hard to say with covid and everything, but it looks better than last year.”
Setting day is a big event for all fishermen on P.E.I.
In French River, they head to the wharf around five in the morning. An hour later, they head out single file to stake out their claims. Last year, the weather was calm on setting day, but Blackett says that isn’t always the case.
“A couple days we should have never been out on the water”
Fishing boats are extremely well equipped these days, they are required to have life jackets, rafts and emergency suits. On rough setting days, fisherman usually take smaller loads, but Blackett says safety on those days comes down to only one piece of advice.
The industry has always been competitive, but Blackett says its softened a lot over the years.
With the introduction of GPS technology, fisherman can stake out claims for themselves without having to fight over them.
Blackett says competition still exists and its not always friendly, but he finds it waning in himself.
“The older you get, the more laid back you get.”
One person he isn’t in competition with is his son, Keir.
Keir Blackett has been fishing lobster since 2012, when he started working with his dad. In 2015, he became his own captain.
Keir says that when he sailed out of the harbor on his own for the first time, he was a nervous mess.
“I was just thinking the whole time ‘what the hell did I get myself into.’”
By the end of the season, he felt a lot more confident in himself and now he feels like he knows the job pretty well.
Keir says the job is both difficult and rewarding.
“It’s great when you’re your own boss, but the stress is on your own shoulders.”
Keir has been preparing for setting day since the first of April and like his father is optimistic about the catch for this year.
The fishermen struggled last year due to less people buying lobster at the beginning of the pandemic. Keir says this year is different.
“This year the price is strong.”
Around this time, most fisherman are in a state of nervous anticipation, Keir says.
“I’m excited. I’m always excited leading up to it.”
Keir says he never sleeps the night before setting day, something his father remembers well.
“Years ago I never slept the night before, but nowadays I sleep quite comfortably.”
Neil says fishing industry regulations are changing every year.
Limits are always increasing and fishermen can’t afford to get comfortable.
“Every year there’s something new.”