“Fishing season is the start of happiness,” says Martin Watts with his trademark laugh.
For the past month everyone has been pleased to greet the returning sockeye run to the Somass River; even more so to see such a plentiful return for a second year in a row.
Many families have spent the weeks and months leading up to sockeye season preparing their boats, nets, gear and themselves to welcome the fish for food. The fishery represents a way of living their values passed down through generations.
One of these individuals is Martin Watts from the Tseshaht First Nation, well known for his generous spirit, laughter and sense of humour. For Watts, what is central to his passion for fishing is keeping the values passed from his grandfather, Martin Fred, alive.
“We grew up holding the values central that you do unto others and treat people well,” Watts said.
“It is a values system that you learn as you grown up: the children, they see what you do, like my son Terrence. I live by example—‘this is what you do to make yourself feel happy. We share, we be generous, it is not about money’.
“Back in my grandfather’s day fishing is how you ate.”
Watts, an avid community fisherman for more than 30 years started off this year’s sockeye fishery by giving away his first catch to demonstrate the traditional belief, passed down to him by his grandfather, of how to begin your fishing season “in a good way.”
As a modern twist he used social media to broadcast the day’s catch availability. “It is a great thing now, a tool to use Facebook and media to put it out there,” said Watts. “To be able to provide fish and food for those that need it and want it.”
Watts also uses social media to encourage community participation to pull in the nets for the community fishery at Papermill Dam each weekend.
“It is a vital community activity,” he said. “By fishing we are telling people that this resource has been around forever, we have always accessed it, we love it, we love to share it.”
For the fishermen out on the river, community is essential. “We help each other out,” says Watts.
“When someone’s net is snagged on the river we go help, if someone needs gas, we bring some to them…People help each other pull the nets in at fish days to provide our elderly and our community members with fish.”
He reflects on the importance of community fishing to his childhood. “I remember back in the day, Green Auntie (late Agnes Dick) and Auntie Kath (Kathy Robinson) doing ‘kuchas’ (barbecue salmon on cedar and alder sticks at community fish days,” Watts says.
“All the kids would help by putting all the maple leaves on the table to lay the freshly cooked salmon onto for us all to share and eat the fresh catch. It is about feeding the people.”
These kinds of values are central to how Watts was raised to respect the resource. “I remember when I was four years old we’d be awake. My grandfather Martin Fred, with my cousin June, would walk us to the beach and we would row to the corner where he’d check his net,” Watts recalled.
“We would watch him for hours and hours mending his nets. He would be singing while he worked. I was so fortunate to grow up sitting beside him; we would hear stories about his fishing trips down the canal.
“Fishing, that is how he fed his family. If someone needed fish, he would get some for them. He knew then that there were people who didn’t have the ability to access what he did.”
This spirit of generosity is one of the values central to Watts’ ‘livelihood’; a fishing way of life that is passed down. “It is about being on the water, about the ability to bring your kids out, to share that time with grandsons and with my two boys.
“Fishing and providing fish every season is about relationships,” Martin added, “about running into the same friends each year and working with family.”
The time with his grandfather shaped his values and passion for fishing, and Watts continues that tradition and takes his grandson Brian out.
“Children learn by watching,” says Watts. “My grandson watches me pull the nets in, and he wants to help pull them in too. They grasp on so quickly. All of my children and now my grandsons learn how to wash and clean the fish. It is all a family affair.
“I just enjoy the time with my kids and my grandson, and the opportunity to help others,” he added. “I have made a lot of great friends through fishing. They have been supporters of my and my family for 25 years.
“People come to me each year looking for their fish for the season. I just love to see people’s faces light up when receiving fresh sockeye.”
To learn more about what you can do to support species and ecosystem health to make the west coast the best coast, visit www.tsawalk.ca.