Land & Sea is a multi-phase meta project of EartHand Gleaners Society, exploring three materials common to fishing cultures all over the world — nettle, linen and leather from fish skins — and how they can be a lens for us to examine our relationships with land and sea, from the past to the present, and future.
Tracy Williams and I are co-lead artists; we’ve been researching fish leather, thigh spinning techniques, and nettle processing, and sharing our skills as part of Land & Sea events and workshops.
Sharon Kallis is project coordinator; Kamala Todd, Kelty McKerracher, Lori Snyder and Rebecca Duncan are advisors and facilitators. Guest artists and speakers to date include Rosemarie Georgeson of Vancouver Moving Theatre, Shaun Strobel of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, and Carmen Rosen of Still Moon Arts Society.
Land & Sea has been made possible through the support of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery, and grants from the BC Arts Council and City of Vancouver Cultural Services.
So far I’ve learned a few things from this project that have deeply influenced the way that I think about nets and fishing technology. At one of our Weaving~Conversation Circles last fall, Shaun Strobel of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery spoke about how nylon nets gave fishermen more independence. Shaun was pretty blunt in his statement that the fishing industry in BC (fishing since colonization) has always been about company profits, with canneries and exporters being the main drivers. My understanding from his account is that with linen nets, fishermen were dependent on the canneries, who could afford to invest in the nets and maintain the bluestone vats that kept the nets from rotting or becoming overwhelmed with algae. Nylon is impervious to rot or algae growth, and having longer-lasting gear free of the need for bluestone was one more change that made it feasible for fishermen to invest in their own gear and begin to overturn the control that the canneries had held on the industry and the fishermen. So, nylon may be hard on the environment, but so was the bluestone; and nylon helped to make the difference for our grandparents between being a vulnerable wage-earner and a slightly more secure independent.
Nylon also meant being able to catch more fish for export. When Sharon and I went to visit Katzie last fall, we were introduced to fisheries liason Rick Bailey. Rick took a look at Sharon’s nettle net sample and said, “Well, it’s a bit too coarse for a seine net, but it’d be fine for a dip net. And back when they were making nettle nets, there were so many fish in the river! They didn’t need any of the high-tech, practically invisible nylon and stuff.” Sharon and I looked at each other with wide eyes — because we HAD been comparing our work to the perfect lengths of modern nylon nets hundreds of fathoms long, and not thinking much at all about how the environment had changed — and I felt like I wanted to hit my head on the table. In retrospect, it seems obvious that it would be silly to try to use 19th Century materials in 21st Century fishing conditions.
And that it does seem silly — that conditions have changed so much over the course of these six or seven generations, with so many more people chasing so many fewer fish — is where we need to be starting all our conversations.
Why is it that advances in human technology always mean more strain on the environment? With seven billion of us here now, we can’t go back to the ways of our ancestors; the environment they lived in, of wild riches and intact soils and climate — doesn’t exist any more. What have we got now, and how can we move forward in a way that includes everyone — including the wild, the non-humans, the future generations — in the answers?