Nfld. & Labrador

Young mothers change careers to join the fishery — and hope other women follow

Growing up, Stephanie Lights and Melissa Norris never imagined they would become fish harvesters. Now, they see a bright future for themselves and their families in the industry.

Stephanie Lights and Melissa Norris never thought they'd follow in their families' footsteps

Stephanie Lights, left, and Melissa Norris grew up in fishing families but never thought they'd continue the tradition. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

Stephanie Lights and Melissa Norris have a lot in common. 

Both grew up in fishing families in Port de Grave, in Conception Bay North, N.L. Both are young mothers. 

And neither ever imagined, in their younger years, that they would ever become fish harvesters. 

Now they proudly hold that title and see a bright future for themselves and their families in the industry. 

Changing careers

Lights got into the business two years ago, after returning to the workforce from maternity leave.

She had worked as a hairstylist but was looking for a career that would allow her to spend more time with her two children. Her father, Wayne Russell, had sold his 20-metre vessel and bought a smaller one for the inshore fishery. 

And that's how it all began. 

"A typical day at work for me is throwing lines, catching lines, and I'm actually in the fish hole by myself."

Fisherman Wayne Russell died in July 2018. His daughter, Stephanie Lights, is carrying on the family business. (Submitted by Stephanie Lights )

Her father died in July. Now, Lights is working to take over the family enterprise. 

For Norris, the change came when her family realized her daily grind was getting to her.

She was working at a nine-to-five desk job, commuting to St. John's every day. She says it was taking a toll on her family, and they saw it before she did.

"One day, I was just sitting at my desk at work and my father called me and he offered me to go fishing with him." 

It wasn't long after that, she traded in her business casual clothes for oil skins.

"I started out as sewing crab jackets for the pots and cutting the ropes. And then in April and May is when we started our first few trips."

Stephanie Lights says she wasn't mature enough at 16 years old to go out on the water. But she is loving her new career now. (Submitted by Stephanie Lights)

Both Lights and Norris were guest speakers at the recent Fish Food and Allied Workers Triennial Convention in Gander. They were among many women in attendance, which they say shows the changing attitudes — including their own — in the industry.

"I actually wasn't allowed to go fishing with my dad," said Lights.

"I didn't believe it at first but when I did my first fleet crab season … after I was like, 'Yeah, 16-year-old me would not survive out here.'"

Norris was one of three children in the family and assumed her brother would be the one taking over the family business. 

"I was afraid I wasn't able to do any of the work. It was just never something that crossed my mind and never ever asked to go out. So that day when my dad was like, 'Do you want a career change?' it took me by surprise."

New respect for the family business

They both say they've gained a lot of respect for the hard work their fathers did over the years now that they're doing it themselves.

"I have a whole new appreciation now for what my father has done his whole life and what he's worked for," said Norris. 

Both women know it's hard work, but they're willing take the risk for their families. And they hope others like them are encouraged to become fish harvesters too.  

"Without the young people getting involved, is there a future for the fishery? If you just let people that are in it now stay in and you don't encourage anybody to join, what's going to happen to the fishery years down the road?" said Norris.

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