Fishing lessons to endure the pandemic- 'Uncertainty is a beautiful, beautiful thing'

If isolation has a cure, it’s baiting fishhooks for hours and bobbing on the open sea. The work is physical, repetitive, and for second-generation Victoria-based fish harvester Tiare Boyes, quite similar to waiting out a pandemic.

“I used to complain about being bored when I was little,” she says, laughing over the phone about her pre-teen impatience at missing out on friends’ birthday parties and summer get-togethers. She was 12 when she started to spend weeks at sea. “But fishing was actually a good exercise in, it sounds a little corny, in getting to know myself and understanding that you don’t need to constantly distract your mind. It’s a form of dynamic meditation, though I don’t know many fishermen who would admit to being meditators”

Still, meditation isn’t her only trick to weather monotonous days at sea. Reading, writing, and enjoying the physical labour all help pass the time. Living without the distractions and the often-superficial social connections that dominate urban life, Boyes had time to start the sometimes-uncomfortable process of being comfortable in her own company. It’s a practice she’s been trying to emulate in self-isolation at home by reading, baking, and exercising regularly.

“You’re going to spend the rest of your life with yourself and getting to know that person is, I think, a very good exercise.”

Fishing boats are like social pressure cookers. There’s no escape from rough seas, confined spaces, and the work is inherently uncertain. Under such conditions, she had to learn to share space and connect with her crewmates, most of them at least 20 years older than her. Humour, patience, and an open ear were all important, making the time at sea go smoothly and helping her grow deep connections with people of different ages and backgrounds.

That experience has been particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more time, she’s been reaching out to elderly relatives, and has also gotten closer to her neighbours over the past few weeks. And sometimes, she finds herself to be one giving of her friends and relatives advice on weathering the crisis and waiting out uncertainty.  

“Fishing and working on the ocean is an excellent way to, I think they say, to make God laugh at your plans,” she says. Many things can go wrong in the fisheries. Bad weather can cancel trips. The catch isn’t always great. Dockside prices can fluctuate, making days of work worthless. For Boyes, that lack of control is the best part of the job.

“Uncertainty is a beautiful, beautiful thing. If you know exactly what's going to happen for the rest of your life, I think that's very boring.”