Why Girls Who Fish wants to get more women out in boats

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Aug 28, 2018 3:58 PM

It's a story Kimberly Orren has heard plenty of times: a woman heads out with a father, brother or husband on some outdoors activity and the guys just take over. “And women kind of step back and let them, you know?” she says. Someone else puts the worm on the hook, catches the fish, lights the campfire and drives the boat. “And so women, even though they were participating in these outdoor activities, they weren’t fully participating in them. They were kind of stepping back.”

Instead, Kimberly wants women to step up, and that’s what Girls Who Fish is all about. It’s a program Kimberly’s been running for the past three years through the nonprofit Fishing For Success, operated in Petty Harbour, NL. Women need to do more than just lean in to these activities. They have to take charge, she says. “Yeah, a ‘jump in the boat’ mentality! Not just lean in, jump in.”

Kimberly explains the program’s goal is to make fishing accessible, especially to people who don’t have access to the knowledge of boats, such as young people, women and new Canadians.  They meet in Petty Harbour on the first and third Sunday of every month - unless there’s a holiday. Members pay an annual fee, earning them attendance at any workshops that interest them.

Those who join learn practical skills, like how to clean and fillet fish, as well as cut out tongues and cheeks. And it’s not just fishing skills that they hone. They partake in a lot of pursuits, from hiking to painting. And if they can’t get outside due to the weather, they’ll do indoor activities related to fishing and our heritage. In the winter they go ice fishing and snowshoeing. And when members get more familiar with tasks, they can lean in some more and take over running events, helping others.

Members are also encouraged to get more official training, such as a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (required for anyone in Canada operating a motorized boat) and courses in hunting safety. Right now, they have women who are finishing up the requirements for their Newfoundland and Labrador Guide Licence.

There’s also a civic engagement component, where Girls Who Fish gives back to the community. Last year they teamed up with Choices for Youth’s Momma Moments to teach young women how to make fish stock at Mallard Cottage. They also take the fish they catch and provide meals for seniors. At present, Kimberly is working with the Association for New Canadians on a program for young women who are new arrivals, helping them get familiar with local culture.


The woman behind the boat

The history of Newfoundland and Labrador is entwined with the fishery. Whole families relied on it to survive, with men heading out in boats and the women and children staying on shore, hard at work on the flakes. “And unfortunately, their work was credited to their husbands, or fathers or brothers, depending on whether they were married. So the work of the women kind of got covered up or given credit to the men,” says Kimberly. “Changing that is really important because…we have this view of the fishery as being in a boat. And so, what do we do to get women in the boat?” 

Her hope is that when women see other women recreationally fishing, maybe they’ll consider it as a career. And it’s not just about fishing, but also marine transportation, oceanography, research and other marine careers. “Fishing is just the hook to get people interested in thinking about what they might do around the water.”

A passion for the outdoors was instilled in Kimberly at a young age. She grew up in Grand Falls-Windsor, an inland town, but her family had a home on the coast in Leading Tickles. That’s where she had the opportunity to see fishermen at work. Occasionally, she even helped out by cleaning and gutting fish. It led to a love of science and got her hooked on fishing. “As a kid growing up in Newfoundland, it was something that you couldn’t avoid,” she says.

She was a high school science teacher for 13 years, covering everything from chemistry to physics, but Kimberly says she wanted to get students outside because that’s how most people get their first exposure to science. Many of her kids weren’t even familiar with the plants and animals found in their own backyards.

It got Kimberly thinking, “‘Maybe I’m teaching the wrong thing? Maybe I need to get back into teaching what initially got me interested in science?’” It prompted her to enroll in graduate school for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida, where she also got involved with the univer-sity’s Learn to Fish course for kids. Following this, she moved back home to Newfoundland and Labrador permanently in 2013, and in 2014 set up Fishing For Success.

Kimberly firmly believes fishing is a basic human activity that connects people to nature and our ancestors. “It’s really a terrible thing that young people are growing up today without a way to participate in this activity.”

“You walk on George Street and you hear the music about fishing, and you go to The Rooms and you see artwork that’s created and inspired around our attachment to the sea and fishing, getting on boats,” she says. “And if we aren’t creating pathways for people to experience those things, we’re going to lose the story of fishing. It’s not going to be a part of who we are anymore. And maybe we won’t be unique, maybe we’ll just be like, you know, the next person who just moved [here] from Toronto. Because that is something that makes us unique.”

by Elizabeth Whitten