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Sisters at sea: Meet Nova Scotia's all-female lobster fishing crew
LUNENBURG, N.S. – Lobster fishing season begins next week for districts 33 and 34 in southwestern Nova Scotia, and it appears one crew is about to make history.
The Nellie Row is just one of many boats that will be setting sail, but the fishers on board aren’t your typical crew -- it is believed the Nellie Row boasts the first all-female crew on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
“It sounds a lot more romantic than it probably will be,” laughs Capt. Gail Atkinson. “I like to fish with people that I get along with and that we can have fun together, hopefully, and really enjoy the experience, and people who feel super invested in it.”
Atkinson says her love of the sea came naturally. She was born into a fishing family and often worked on her father’s boat, before buying her own four years ago.
“I decided to take the plunge at the ripe old age of 50, which is kind of old to get a licence,” she says. “It was going to be now or never, so I decided to do it.”
Joining Atkinson on the water is her partner in life and business, Kath Moore, as well as deckhands Annie Featherstone and Sophie Martel.
All four women combined have an extensive resume of life at sea, which includes work on Nova Scotia’s iconic schooner, the Bluenose II, and the Lunenburg-based tall ship Picton Castle, which offers a training program for young mariners.
Featherstone, who is originally from Ontario, says this will be her first year lobster fishing, and she’s up for the challenge.
“I was on the Picton in the Bosun School Program and working across the wharf from the lobster fishermen and a schoolmate of mine said she was going to go, and I said, ‘I want to go, but I want to go with the women,’” she says.
Even the boat is named after a woman -- Atkinson’s grandmother, Nellie. The boat is from Cape Sable Island and has historic and family ties.
“There’s a bit of history with the boatyard where it came from. My grandmother, Nellie, worked there until she was, like, 65 years old, until she retired, and she worked in a number of boat shops during her career,” explains Atkinson.
“So that was extra special to me, and this is the same hull that I fished on with my dad, so I have a lot of faith in the hull, it’s a nice deep hull and I think it’ll take care of us out there.”
Not only does Atkinson have faith in her boat, she also has faith in her all-female crew, proving women have a place in the lobster fishing industry.
“It’s kind of just a lead-by-example kind of thing,” says Kath Moore. “We’re out there doing it so there’s no reason why any other woman can’t do it too, if they have the drive.”
With their drive and experience, the women don’t doubt they will have a successful season building camaraderie and catching lobsters.