Sipley, Francis

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                                     FRANCIS SIPLEY
                             1996 Fisherman of the year
                                By Denise Berthelotte

BAIE ST. ANNE – His name is Francis Sipley. But Baie St. Anne’s fisherman of the year is Bedou. At a young age of 53, Bedou already has over 30 years’ experience in fishing.

“I was a little surprised. Older fishermen are usually chosen,” Bedou said while a young boy’s blue eyes looking up in admiration of his grandfather. “This is my buddy Daniel,” Sipley said as the seven year old nestled in his arms.

Sipley and his wife Emerilda raised four children of their own before they could enjoy spoiling their grandchildren. The eldest, Daniel’s father, and then three others.

Francis Sipley started fishing when he was in his early twenties. He bought two boats because at the time lobster fishermen could fish in the spring and fall seasons. He sold one of them when the regulations changed in the early 1970’s. “It’s almost the same as it was before now,” he said. About six or seven years ago, new regulations allowed two captains to fish both seasons even from the same boat.

“It’s a job and it’s money,” he said, adding his father fished too, but had given it up just before Francis started just one year after the Escuminac Disaster in the late 1950’s.

“I remember going out the next day looking for bodies with my cousin on his boat.” Sipley said virtually every boat not damaged by the storm was out in the water that Sunday rescuing survivors and looking for corpses. “We saw a lot of nets, remains of boats and sunken boats.” Luckily he and his cousin didn’t have to go through the pain of recovering any bodies.

The surprise storm hit on a Friday night. The waters were still too rough for him to go out looking on Saturday. “We could see them coming in on Saturday morning right through into the afternoon. Some were tied to their boats.”

Sipley said he believes most fishermen who lost their lives did so while in panic. He said most perished close to the shore while attempting to come in. “Most who stayed at large survived,” Sipley said.

He didn’t think a surprise storm today would end in such disaster because fishermen now know what to do from experience. Bedou has been caught in many storms, although not nearly as destructive ones as the disaster. “You don’t really have time to be scared. You just keep your cool.”

Sipley doesn’t see fishing as a job any different than another, even though many days he’s up before the sun’s up and only back home after sun’s down. And he said even though the equipment is much more modern, the lifestyle is still the same.

Sipley fishes just about every species there is to fish. Among the many licenses he holds are gaspereau, herring, oyster, eel, and cod.

Sipley said lobster fishing in that area is great this year. “We’re about 800 pounds higher this year than this time last year.” He said he thought it was because the cod population had diminished. “Cod feeds on lobster.” He remembers many a time cutting open cod to find remains of lobster inside. Now the main threat to lobster seems to be seals, which he said are plentiful.

                                  DFO doing good work

Francis Sipley thinks the federal department of fisheries and oceans is doing a great job. He’s most in favour of the quotas put on different species saying it will help assure preservation. “Fishermen complain that they can’t make it. Well, that’s not true. Those who want to make it are faring well.” Sipley said he’s seen times when over-fishing has nearly left species in danger of disappearing. “Sometimes there was nothing left to fish.”

                              Day off important for all fishermen

Francis Sipley makes a living off fishing, but Sundays have always been a day off. He said he’s not a regular church goer, but everyone should take at least one day off a week. “It’s not just a matter of conscience. You need a day to change your thoughts,” he said. Sipley said he thinks working Sundays might be great for the captains, but not so for the hired hands. “Time is needed to straighten out their affairs.”

Nevertheless, about 40 per cent fish lobster on Sundays on a commercial basis. “But we’ve always been against it.”

Instead, he and many fishermen take advantage of the day to spend time with their family. A common outing would be to join at large on the boats complete with barbeques and even music. “The lobsters are in cages. They’re not going anywhere. They’ll still be in there on Monday,” he said.

Sipley said the Sunday outings are also great for tourists or visitors to the area.

Source: Miramichi Leader – June 25, 1996

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