Daigle, Eric

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                                     ERIC DAIGLE
                              Fisherman of the Year - 1995
                                   By Denise Berthelotte

BAIE ST. ANNE – He has been fishing for 60 years. He made his own traps, walked two miles to his boat and even survived the Escuminac disaster. Now Eric Daigle, 74, of Baie St. Anne will be named fisherman of the year at the BaieSt. Anne seafood festival. Daigle said he liked being a fisherman, but there were times he would have just rather stayed at shore.

“We got up at 3 a. m. then faced a two and a half mile walk to our boats,” said the elderly fisherman in a French interview. Daigle said men didn’t have much of a choice but to fish back then because there was no other work and no unemployment help.

He started fishing at the age of 14 with his brother. At 16 he decided to buy his own boat. “In the spring I fished with my brother, in the fall I had my own boat,” he said with a chuckle.

Daigle gave up his fisherman career when he was 70, but he didn’t fully give up fishing oysters. But he did say this might be his last year fishing oysters too.

His time at sea has left him with many memories. He said fishermen today have it much easier. In 1936, when Daigle was fishing, few had cars. And there was no wharf. That meant most fishermen walked to waters and rowed their way to their boats. Daigle and his men had a two and a half mile walk ahead of them each morning. “We couldn’t really bring the horses and leave them there.”

Fishermen didn’t have any roof over their heads when they were out at sea. They often came home soaked from a shower or a downpour. “Water ran down from our necks right into our boots. We came back sometimes with our boots filled with water,” he said and tilted his head as he laughed at the memory.

Most boats run on diesel fuel now, but Daigle said they were stuck with five horsepower engines. “They weren’t very fast.”

Once out on the water the men also had to lug up the traps by tugging on a cable. Now most traps are hauled in by electronic gear. One of Daigle’s most horrifying experiences was the Escuminac disaster of June 19, 1959.

He said they were about two months into the salmon season and fishermen usually slept out at sea in their boats. The storm caught them by surprise. Daigle said they couldn’t see anything but headed in the direction they believed was towards the shore. On the way ferocious waves and high winds shook the boat and the men in it. Daigle’s hand was caught in a cable and he was jammed against the boat. The fall broke his finger and nose.

“The first thing we saw was the church. It’s a bigger building and it’s white.” So the men just kept towards the only thing they could see, relieved they were close to home.

Over 34 men weren’t as lucky though. Daigle only found out about the deaths the next day. “That’s when I really felt lucky.”

Daigle said the disaster didn’t bother him until he was back at sea. “After when we went on the water and the wind starts blowing from out shore, we remember.”

Source: Miramichi Leader – June 20, 1995

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