Joy Barker sums up her association with the fishery with her wry sense of humour by connecting it to her married life but adds the fishing industry is still in the cards for her — someday.
The Baie Verte, Newfoundland, businesswoman explains that she didn’t know much about the fishing industry growing up in Coachman’s Cove and Baie Verte, although her mother ran a business that, among other things, sold fishing supplies, including fish gear.
It wasn’t until she met and married a fisherman that Joy was introduced to the industry that she describes as the riskiest business she knows.
Joy spent 10 years fishing with her husband but moved on to a different business when the couple divorced two years ago. “But I’m still passionate about it and I think that fishing will play a role in my life again someday,” she laughs.
Ten years was long enough for Joy Barker to make a name for herself in the fish business. Still young, in her late 30s now, Joy never knew cod. She started fishing following the cod moratorium when crab and shrimp stocks mushroomed on the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
She fished on 35, 45 and 65-foot vessels although, as mom of two young children, she had to chose her trips carefully because she couldn’t be away from the children overnight when her husband was also on the boat.
That meant she sometimes fished on the smaller boats or fished pelagics such as mackerel, herring and caplin when the boats were scheduled to return to port at night. “I loved fishing mackerel — it was fun,” she says.
Joy Barker is a confident woman with a strong work ethic, something that seems to come with the Barker name. Both her parents were businesspeople. Her mom owned and managed a retail business and her father owned and operated a construction company.
Joy never thought it might have been considered unusual when she and her two sisters would pitch in and help with whatever their parents needed, including operating large mechanical equipment. Gender equality wasn’t an issue in the Barker household.
Joy bought and managed a garage that employed three mechanics when she was just 21. She gave that up when she became pregnant.
“I was concerned about working around gas and exhaust fumes and other things associated with the garage environment at that time,” she said.
But business is in her blood and today, Joy runs a gas station and convenience store in Baie Verte and is also a business property owner.
Several other businesses rent space in her building, including a restaurant, a hair salon, a dairy company office and a car sales company.
On the evening we interviewed Joy, Baie Verte was in the midst of a major snowstorm and she had spent most of her day, beginning at 6 a.m. operating her snowplow, cleaning the parking lots for her tenants as well as her own business. That job included moving cars around for the automobile dealer in order to do the job thoroughly.
Joy is an avid outdoors person. She is active in many outdoor activities including snowmobiling and hunting. She enjoys hunting moose and caribou. She also recently acquired a trapper’s license to trap mink. She got a permit when the pesky furry predators became a threat to her chickens. Meanwhile, she observes that mink fur fetches a few bucks these days and she may look at trapping for commercial purposes as well.
“I’m all about getting whatever permits and licenses I can get and doing new courses to upgrade my education any way I can — once you have it, they won’t take it away,” she rationalizes.
Joy’s confidence and extrovert personality served her well as a fisherwoman. She learned the industry quickly and was not afraid to voice her opinions about what she considered government policy injustices to fishing people.
Her forthright approach to dealing with issues gained her the respect of fishermen and recognition from local media, including CBC Radio and TV in Central Newfoundland. She was a guest on several programs and earned the respect of news reporters for her intelligent insight.
“You land good quality fish [consistently] and you will be a sought-after fisherman,” she says, explaining that buyers know individual fishermen and their practices and she says buyers have ways to reward fishermen for landing good quality product.
“By the same token, if you bring in garbage, beat up, broken fish and whatever, they are not going to give you top price — they don’t even want to talk to you,” she says, adding that fishermen can improve their fish quality by upgrading their boats and installing additional quality enhancing equipment. She points out that with cod making a comeback, the only way fishermen can possibly turn a profit on that species is to land nothing but Grade A product every trip.
That’s why Joy says fishermen need to take a long-term view of their business rather than react negatively to something they disagree with in the short term.
As a businesswoman, she says she understands that buyers can’t send large refrigerated trucks to every nook and cranny to pick up just a few hundred pounds of fish every other day when they need loads in the thousands of pounds to merely break even on the cost of operating those rigs. Maximizing benefits for everyone is something that needs planning, coordination and cooperation she says.
Joy believes planning and coordination is a role that should by done through the Fishermen’s Union (FFAW). But like many of her peers, she thinks the union is serving too many masters and is too closely aligned with DFO to effectively fight for fishermen. She has never served on any union committees but was a board member of the Independent Fish Harvesters Association, a lobby group by fishermen/for fishermen on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Joy believes that organizations like that are necessary to deal with regional issues.
Joy serves as a director with the Baie Verte and Area Chamber of Commerce and says organizations like the chamber and rural businesses should do more to support fishermen.
“I know from personal experience on both sides that fishermen are huge contributors to rural economies. For example, when I had the garage, we knew that as soon as sealing season started, we went into high gear with repair work and it continued like that through all the other fishing seasons.”
Joy’s views support a widely known fact that when fishermen have a good season and make money, they spend it and for that reason she thinks the business community should take an active role in supporting fishermen in events like rallies protesting unnecessary quota cutbacks and unfair treatment from both levels of government. It would be good to show some solidarity from the business community to help bolster the fishermen’s requests because it makes good business sense. But, she says the reality is that too many business people view fishermen negatively, almost as if fishermen are second-class citizens who don’t deserve much.
“I often hear sarcastic comments critical of ‘poor fishermen’ — who drive big, expensive pickup trucks and they got this and they got that but they don’t realize that their businesses would be hurting without those fishermen.” Joy smiles that you won’t hear her complain when those big 4X4 pickups pull in to her gas station for a fill up.
With oil prices at half what they were a year ago, Joy says there is a positive effect from the subsequent layoffs in the Alberta oil industry. Some Newfoundlanders are coming back home looking for a job and fishing skippers and land-based business people alike are finding it easier to attract good workers these days.
Joy is a very busy woman. A single mom of two children age five and seven, she runs a sizeable business, volunteers on several regional associations and committees and tries to find time for a social life in between. Somehow she balances it well.
Joy Barker is a survivor — and something tells us that we haven’t heard the last of her yet.