Photo by Chung Chow
Jaime Da Costa knows the fishing industry inside and out.
Her family fished, and still fishes, for a living.
She started working as the office assistant in the Steveston Harbour Authority, Canada’s largest commercial harbour.
Today with 18 years’ experience under her belt, though she is officially the general manager of the Steveston Harbour Authority, few know her by that title.
“Quite a few people call me harbour master. That’s the thing that rolls off people’s tongue,” Da Costa says.
Working with the board of governors for the harbour, Da Costa speaks with enthusiasm of the changes underway at both of the harbour authority’s two sites, one at the southern end of Trites Road called the Paramount site and the other Steveston Village, referred to as the Gulf site.
“Everybody says fishing is dying and it’s not. It’s evolving,” she says.
“We do want to become the hub of the fishing industries. We want fishers to be able to come down to Steveston to get everything they need, from ice to offloading their catch at the seafood auction here to having it packaged and distributed. You can also repair your boat here and fishermen can also sell their catch to the public at the public fish sales float.”
Through a combination of harbour authority projects and the attraction of independent businesses to the sites, Da Costa looks to solidify Steveston’s fishing future.
“Right now we’re undertaking the largest project that a small craft harbour has ever undertaken. We’re building an ice plant. That’s exactly what the commercial fishing industry needs, when you catch your fish, you need ice.”
The ice keeps the fish in a safe temperature zone so it doesn’t spoil. That means fishers can get it to market and people can eat it without worry of food-borne illness.
The latest company to move on site offers even more.
“Fishermen can also get any rope and twine they need from Pacific Twine, which is now on site. They are the premier net and twine store.”
She speaks of hoping that Redden Net, long a mainstay of Steveston, will move onsite as well. Though at the foot of No. 2 Rd., they are not far away.
“Another project we have going on at the Gulf (Steveston Village) site is secondary services for the fleet which will enhance the maritime heritage character of the village.”
Da Costa says the harbour authority is in talks with Cantrawl Nets.
“They’re the largest net manufacturing company in Canada. They’re on Graybar Road right now.” The harbour authority is hoping to snatch them up and put them in Steveston Village, right along a waterfront walkway.
“The south part of the building is going to be in windows, so people can walk down that walkway and watch people build nets.”
She says it will be good for tourism, helping people be even more excited about Steveston, its heritage and its working harbour.
At the Trites Road site, there is the recently-installed boat crane.
“Strait Marine purchased a 70-tonne boat lift,” says Da Costa.
The harbour authority and Small Craft Harbours beefed up the loading bay and dredged the travel lift slip to accommodate the larger boat and larger lift, so larger boats can be hauled out for repair on land. It’s also available for pleasure crafts, a much-needed facility now that bottom scraping and painting has to be done on land instead of on a tide grid.
“We also have welders on site,” says Da Costa.
At one time, Steveston was home to over two dozen working canneries.
“Fish processing’s coming back,” Da Costa says, “They are still catching fish. It’s about changing and evolving with the needs of the fishermen.”
She mentions examples like Organic Oceans and then Skipper Otto’s community-supported fishery that works with consumers to provide fair trade seafood, which works much like when people invest in a garden at the beginning of the season then receive a weekly share of produce.
“He’s offloading prawns this week,” she says.
As more consumers want to know with assurance where their fish and seafood come from, Da Costa speaks of the smaller scale, custom processing facility at Seventh Avenue. “Picture the synergy: being able to go down to our public sales float, interact with fishers, buy a big salmon, take a stroll, see the history of fish at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Museum, then head out, see the big fishnet mending, a net being offloaded there, real time fishing, then see nets being made. This is a little gem and we’re a part of it.”
This is no vision of a twee, Disneyesque village. Da Costa and the harbour authority’s board have a shared vision of a vibrant fishery integrated with those who live here and those who come to visit.
And what does Da Costa say to those in the fishing industry and tourists alike?
“Come to Steveston. We’ve got the space. We want you here. We want you to come here.”