At its heart, The Fisher Queen: A Deckhand’s Tales of the BC Coast (Heritage House, 2012) is about humanity’s oldest story: the primeval quest of the hunter. Sylvia Taylor’s evocative memoir recounts this ancient tale in the form of a summer sojourn aboard a commercial fishing boat in pursuit of salmon. It’s an odyssey of love, loneliness and longing set on the rugged backdrop of Vancouver Island’s West Coast.
It’s 1981, and Taylor has signed on as greenhorn deckhand on a 40-foot wooden salmon troller. It’s a rite of passage for many college students looking to make money for tuition and looking for adventure. Taylor is determined to master the ins and outs of fishing some of the most dangerous waters in the world nicknamed “the Graveyard of the Pacific.” For four months, she helps navigate the waters off northern Vancouver Island, learning the ways of fisherfolk and the habitat in which they breathe, sleep and survive.
The politics of selling fish, the basics of tying gear, near-death experiences, endless boat troubles, the emotional perils of sharing cramped quarters—all are part of a steep and unforgiving learning curve. Taylor’s story captures the reality of life on a fishboat. Her lyrical, simple prose explores the tight-knit relationship of fishermen with the west coast’s wild, untamed waters.
In the book’s afterword, Taylor recounts the storied, often tumultuous, history of the B.C. fishing industry and casts an eye to its future. Among other positive initiatives, she writes about ThisFish as a way to re-connect us to the sustenance of the sea.