Feeling Cold from Coldwater Cowboys

Coming from a fishing family, I was really excited last year when I heard a reality show was being made about fishing in Canada.  I’m a big fan of Deadliest Catch.  While we don’t have a king crab fishery around here (it’s mainly an inshore fishery) there are some aspects that are universal: bad weather, spotty catch, regulations.   I feel like I’ve learned about the fishery there.  The fishermen are “characters”; they have bad days and bad seasons.  Their real life enters the story; you feel like you know them.  It makes it fun to watch and root for your favourite.

I was anxious to see the East Coast match up.  We certainly have no shortage of fishermen “characters”.  There are different fisheries that would have excitement and drama that would make good tv.  Most of all, the fishery suffers from an image problem: it’s perceived by many as the employer of last resort.  “If all else fails, you can always get a job as a fisherman“.  That may be partially true, but the fishery also provides good paying jobs and is a strong economic driver in coastal communities across the Atlantic Provinces.  There are very successful fishermen who are professional; they are proud of what they do for a living.

To say I was disappointed in Cold Water Cowboys doesn’t quite cover it.  While I’m sure these fishermen make successful fishing trips, you certainly couldn’t tell by watching the show.  Every other scene is the fish being lost from a net, the gear is set improperly, the set is missed, or something breaks down.  While these things happen to every fisherman at some point, it doesn’t happen every trip, every time you leave the wharf.  Instead of looking like professional fishermen who are somewhat successful at their careers, they look like stumbling buffoons that you wonder how they ever get a boat away from the wharf and back again. Instead of improving the image of the fishery, in my opinion it’s setting it back.

I’m not from Newfoundland.  I know a little about their fisheries and it feels like such a lost opportunity to showcase the different types of fisheries (capelin, shrimp, crab) how they are managed (quota, competitive, seasons) what are the challenges in each (stock abundance, license conditions).  I’ve talked abou the excitement of opening day in the lobster fishery here; are there similar events in these fisheries?  There are big issues within the fishery (access for new entrants, decreased prices since the economic downturn, changes within fisheries management and enforcement, changing vessel regulations) – how are they impacting what happens on the water?  The potential for episodes that are  interesting and don’t play into the stereotypical version of the fishery are boundless.  Instead, each week we watch the same type of scenes over and over.

When I watch “Deadliest Catch” I think “Wow, I could never do that!”  When I watch “Coldwater Cowboys” I snort think, “Even I could do that”. I know in reality I couldn’t; but I wonder: “shouldn’t a reality show offer at least a glimmer of reality?”

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