By Dayna Mahannah
“Wake up, make coffee, eat, fish.”
That’s the order of the day for Kingsley Bryce, commercial fisherman. Even trite industry politics, the odd storm, or low salmon projection won’t tarnish the simple foundation of a day at sea. At 23 years old, Bryce is designated captain of the NERKA#1, a family heirloom and the 40-foot boat he and his brother make a living on.
“I call him the deckhand, but, because we’re brothers, we blur the lines there a bit,” Bryce laughs, cross-legged on the edge of the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf near Granville Island. After recently wrapping up the salmon fishing season, he’s just arrived in town to drop some goods off at the market.
Bryce is now prepared for summer and a “green ’n’ clean” tuna fishing season, which scraps the conventional methods used in his salmon fishing practice. Taking a more environmental route, he’ll use hooks instead of nets, employ a more “discriminatory” attitude towards the catch, and refrain from decimating entire groupings of fish. In this way, the bycatch (non-targeted species caught in the wrong place at the wrong time) is minimized to two or three for an entire season. Tuna tend to be a more plentiful catch than salmon, which average 25 a day, nearing 100 on a good day. A stellar 12-14 hour day tuna fishing can yield 300 fish.
Bryce’s salmon is sold to a buyer and hits the international market. The tuna, however, is processed in the lower mainland and sold locally – on Granville Island, in sushi restaurants, and to his most loyal customer, Tacofino. In an earlier conversation over the phone, Bryce asked a simple question: “How often do you see locally caught fish being sold locally in the lower mainland?” His family business, Natural Gift Seafoods, is changing the answer to that by offering local, high-quality albacore tuna to their own corner of the world.
Concerning their regular commercial salmon fishing practices, Bryce sees misconceptions from the general public. “We’re not as evil as you think!” he says. “The sense I get from a lot of people is they think we’re taking the oceans for every last fish they have when really, we’re very highly regulated. Our salmon fishery on the west coast of the island is allowed to take just under 1 per cent of the entire estimated population of Chinook salmon, so that helps me sleep at night.”
Consumers can take responsibility for their side of things, too. “At your local seafood shop, request fresh, BC produce, and at your sushi restaurants as well. Definitely pay the extra couple of bucks for wild salmon instead of farmed.”
During the off season, Bryce migrates to North Vancouver from his hometown of Nanoose Bay. “A small retirement community gets kinda tiring for a 23-year-old after a while.” In the winter he skis, hikes, and takes his friend’s boat out for – yep – winter fishing.
But Bryce sits on the youthful end of the spectrum in an industry where, a few years ago, the average age of a Canadian tuna skipper was 58. “I’m looking for friends!” Bryce laughs. “There’s quite a few job opportunities if you’re hardworking and got a couple screws loose.” A lot of younger workers in the industry get their start through family ties, but it “doesn’t mean it always has to be.”
Such an occupation has its drawbacks – for the last five years, Bryce has worked six months at a time with a total of two weeks off throughout.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he says. “But if you want to escape the hot weather, you have all winter free to go skiing or head off somewhere tropical. You can make a good chunk of change in a short amount of time.” Even on day at sea when the fish aren’t biting, the downsides don’t tilt the scale. “There’s not a whole lot to do and you’re out on the ocean, so it’s not a bad place to be.”
Check out Kingsley Bryce’s family business website, naturalgiftseafoods.com. For more info about the BC fishing industry, visit bcsalmon.ca.fishing