Holly Lynton - Shannon Eldredge, Chatham, Massachusetts - USA - #3
In the early morning mist of Cape Cod, Shannon Eldredge drives her family boat out to Nantucket Sound and sets up the fishing weirs that have been the source of her family’s livelihood for three generations. The 45 foot long hickory poles are driven into the sandy sea floor and act like an underwater fence, redirecting the fish into a net where they can be harvested. Squid in the spring and Spanish mackerel and bluefish in the summer. Unlike the commercial boats that trawl the New England coast, traditional weir fishing is small-scale and respects the breeding season of the fish, ensuring that the diversity of the types of fish and their populations have remained stable over generations.
For 35 year old Shannon, it is also a way of life although her family never intended her to take it on. After a childhood of playing around the docks, her parents were determined that she should move away and get an education. Cheap imports of fish were undermining local markets and fish stocks were on the decline due to the devastating impact of industrial scale fishing operations. To raise money for college, Shannon was given a job clamming – digging shellfish on the sandy flats. But rather than put her off, it drew her further into the family tradition. ‘I loved every minute of it’ she says ‘I learned what it means to be self-employed and how to have a strong work ethic. I did go to College and never missed a class because I knew it was going to cost me 200lbs of clams next season!’
After Shannon graduated, Shannon returned to work alongside her father and uncle. The first season was a disaster: ‘the fish just never swam into the nets... all that work for almost nothing. It was devastating’, she says. Shannon decided to try one more year and set up the weirs again. This time, with the ‘hail coming down so hard, the water was frothing jade green and snow white’. However, that day they had a haul of 9,000lbs of mackerel, ‘more fish in one day than we’d had the entire previous season!’ says Shannon.
These days, Shannon hedges her bets and finds other ways to supplement the family income. ‘We piece it together because we love working on the water, and feeding people’. Despite a college education, Shannon says she enjoys physical labour best. ‘Most people pay crazy amounts of money to exercise. I get paid to build muscle and sweat! Also, I learnt a special set of skills, directly from my father. That’s rare in our culture these days... and I’m proud to take on the gift of his knowledge.’