More women becoming captains in P.E.I. lobster fishery

While lobster fishing has long been one of the backbones of the P.E.I. economy, a woman at the helm of a fishing boat hasn't been a common sight. But that is changing in the industry as more women are becoming captains.

'The glass ceiling is not there. We have lifted it,' says Dana Lavers

Bethany McCarthy at the wheel of the boat she captains, the Ms. High Maintenance. (CBC)

While lobster fishing has long been one of the backbones of the P.E.I. economy, a woman at the helm of a fishing boat hasn't been a common sight.

But that is changing in the industry as more women are becoming captains.

"Love it, absolutely love it," said 36-year-old Bethany McCarthy at the wheel, a few minutes out from the wharf at Grahams Pond.

"It was a little scary at first. There was a couple of days at the beginning where I thought I made a big mistake so I didn't know what direction I was going. I was just like, it was awful, it was awful. But after the first week I was like, you know what, I can do this."

McCarthy is in her second season as captain, after working more than a decade on other boats. (CBC)

McCarthy worked on other people's boats for more than a decade, and this is her second season on her own boat, the Ms. High Maintenance, complete with high heels on the side and her own lobster licence.

"It doesn't feel very weird at all," she said. "I don't know why. I think it's just because I feel like this is where I belong."

And yes — she calls herself a fisherman. "I don't do any of this political correctness," she stressed. "I'm out here the same as everybody else. I fish. I tell people I'm a fisherman."

She said even though there aren't many female captains, she is getting support from others in the industry, including hired hand Dewayne Nicolle.

"She asked me a year ago and I said no, and then this year I said yes," he said. "It was going to be her first year and I wanted to see how she got along before I went."

McCarthy along with her son, Alec, and hired hand Dewayne Nicolle. (CBC)

McCarthy turned around at least one skeptic. "She's doing actually really good, I was really surprised actually," Nicolle admitted.

A mother of two, McCarthy hopes to pass on her legacy someday. "She didn't think she was going to do this and she was kind of scared going into it and then she did it so I guess that's why I'm proud of her," said her 12-year-old son Alec.

Back on the wharf, now standing in her high heels, McCarthy said she still surprises a lot of people.

"They usually look at me kind of funny at first and then they say 'You fish? Like in a boat?' And I'm like 'Yeah,' and they're like, 'Oh who else is with you?' and I'm like 'No, it's just me out there.'"

As more women join the captain's ranks, they are encouraging others to get involved.

Captains on the wharf: Shelley Deagle, Dana Lavers and Bethany McCarthy (CBC)

"For many years we weren't even really accepted into it on the back, let alone the front of the boat," said Shelley Deagle, who has been fishing for 24 years, with her own licence since 2010.

"If you have a passion for something, go for it, do your best and you know you'll succeed, whatever the outcome is, doesn't matter as long as you try."

Dana Lavers, 26, from Wood Islands has had her license since 2012, and wants young women to know they can be a captain too.

"Just to show that the glass ceiling is not there. We have lifted it and I hope that more women continue to lift that higher and higher all the time."

As more women join the captain's ranks, they are encouraging others to get involved. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)