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For as long as she can remember, her father has been taking her down to the jetty, into the boat and out to sea. Over the years, they have been on countless fishing trips together. And she has always wanted to be fisher. A fisher, just like her dad.
“If it hadn’t been for him, if he hadn’t shown me how fun it is to be out at sea handling fish, I don’t think I would be doing this for a living now”, says Elise Kristin.
Because the young fisher also faced a lot of resistance. Almost no-one believed that she could cope with a job like this, and they weren’t afraid to tell her. The resistance was born out of concern. Her family was not keen on her sailing so far out to sea, and they were afraid she would get injured.
But armed with the motto “The greatest pleasure is doing what people say you cannot do” and Pippi Longstocking’s spirit of “I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that”, she had no intention of letting that get in the way of her dream. So when she had to pick which subjects to take at the age of 15, the choice was easy: “Nature Management”, followed by “Fishing and General Seamanship” at Vest-Lofoten sixth-form college.
After finishing school, she spent two years as an apprentice on the trawler Gadus Njord. She remembers being slightly nervous about how she would be received by the other people on the boat. As well as being young, she was a girl, which is a rare combination in the fishing industry. Fortunately, her fears were unfounded. The crew was great at making her feel welcome her right from the start – perhaps even a bit too good.
“They wanted to help me with everything, so I was hardly able to do anything myself. But they quickly got the message that I was there to do a job, and wanted to do exactly the same things as them!”
She ended up loving the crew she had initially been worried about, and over the course of her apprenticeship they became like an extra family for Elise Kristin, who was just an 18-year-old girl at the time. So she was really pleased when she got a temporary job on the trawler after completing her apprenticeship. But when the temporary cover came to an end, they didn’t have a permanent job to offer her, so she ended up on a different trawler.
After a few years on the other trawler, luck would have it that she ended up back on Gadus Njord with her extra family, this time in a permanent job, and that is where she has stayed since then. She is the only female fisher on the trawler, which is not an unusual situation. Although she doesn’t mind being the only woman in such a male-dominated world, she would definitely like there to be more women in the industry.
“But it isn’t for everyone. You have to be quite tough and resilient, and be able to muck in. You can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty, to put it like that.”
On her Instagram account @elisekristin96, she often shares photos of her life at sea. She hopes that she manages to show girls what her life is really like and to convey how enjoyable the work is. Perhaps she will manage to get someone interested who would otherwise have had the wrong idea about what the job involves. Because many people have misconceptions – for example, they think that fishers just cast their fishing lines and wait to see if anything bites.
Elise Kristin believes photos can help to give people a better understanding of her work. In addition, she likes presenting both her employer and the job.
” I’m incredibly proud of my job! I’m proud to be doing the work that I do!”
That job satisfaction and pride comes across in her photos. You rarely see a photo of Elise Kristin where she isn’t smiling. She often receives messages saying how cool it is that she is sharing her experience as a fisher. Many people also comment that it is great to see a female fisher.
Several of the people who have contacted her are female fishers who think it is fantastic to see other women in the industry. Elise Kristin enjoys getting feedback from people. She thinks that if you want to try life as a fisher, you should go for it. One explanation for the low proportion of women fishers is that it is harder for women to combine the job with having children.
“You have everything from small boats that only go out during the day, to bigger ones that are out for weeks on end. You can definitely have a family life if you work on a small boat that operates locally. It depends a bit on how much time you want to spend at home,” she says.
Studies also show that women enter the industry later and stay in it for a shorter length of time. That isn’t the case for Elise Kristin. Her future is on a boat, and her dream is to end up as an officer on the bridge as the chief officer of a trawler. In order to reach that goal, she has taken a continuing education course to become a deck officer. Now she is just waiting for a job to become available.
Her rota means she has 5 weeks of work, and 5 weeks off. When she is working, she does two shifts a day, morning and evening, both from 8 to 2. When you live in such close proximity to the people you also work with, you quickly get to know them well.
“In a way, you become a little family. Because you spend more time with the people you work with than with your own family.”
In the same way as with her family on land, she celebrates birthdays and every second Christmas Eve with her family at sea. That can be really nice, in her experience. The steward, who is the cook on the trawler, is good at making your birthday a special occasion. There are balloons, cakes and singing, and you can normally choose what you want for dinner. While they were on watch in December last year, the steward’s assistant put Advent packs that she had made outside the cabin doors of all of the fishers.
“There were some sweets in each pack. She had wrapped the small packs for everyone each day.”
The team on the boat consists of 21 people, including the steward, steward’s assistant, captain and engineer. There are seven people on Elise Kristin’s shift, and they are the ones she spends most time with. The crew are of all ages, with an age difference of almost 40 years between the youngest and oldest. With age, comes knowledge.
“Those of us who are younger learn so much from the older guys. As long as you’re interested, they are really good at passing on their knowledge and at pushing us, so we learn to do things ourselves. I’ve realised that the better we cooperate and teach one another, the better we perform.”
According to her, as well as learning from each other, the crew members are also good at providing and asking for help. She remembers that was something which surprised her. “Men are generally expected to be so tough and resilient”, she adds. But since they live on top of one another, they have to let other people help them. She thinks her colleagues are good at accepting help if they need it.
“On my shift, everyone is very inclusive and we cooperate really well. We are good at supporting each other”, she says.
One of the things she likes best about her job is you’re never fully trained: you learn something new every day. Even if your tasks are the same, each day is different. The tasks including setting, in other words getting the trawl into the water, hauling and processing fish.
When the captain or chief officer gives the order, the trawl net – in other words the net in the sea – needs to hauled in. Then it is all hands on deck, except for the factory manager. Once the fish is onboard, they work together to take it down to the factory.
“I work on a fish gutting machine, so I’m right at the back gutting the fish. People are put where they’re most useful, but everyone does a bit of everything really.”
After she started working on a trawler, she has also realised the importance of handling the fish well.
“It’s good to know that the fish is top quality. People who buy fish in a shop should be confident it has been looked after well, and that their food is of a high quality, even if they haven’t caught it themselves.”
As a fisher, she has also experienced what mother nature can throw at you. She has experienced completely calm seas on a warm, sunny summer’s day, but also storms and hurricanes in autumn and winter. When the weather is really bad, they just have to wait for it to improve. For a few hours, or even a few days. On the bridge they know where the fish is heading, so that’s where they go, whatever the weather is like. Elise Kristin is fascinated by the relationship between the weather and the waves. The crew members are used to bad weather and being surrounded by water.
“We develop what we call sea legs. You learn to move with the waves. There is always something to hold onto, and you can generally feel when the boat is rising. Everything that goes up has to come down – and that’s when you need to hold on tight.
The fish are constantly moving, so the fishers have to keep moving if they want to catch them. The hunting instinct takes over. At home she hunts grouse; at sea it’s fish. Bad weather also requires you to be more alert.
“The only thing you need to worry about is that things move around more on deck when the weather is bad, so you have to be much more vigilant than when the weather is good”, she says.
She has also had a chance to see some of the things hiding in the deep sea: rare and strange fish and sea creatures that she wouldn’t otherwise have known about. That’s another reason why she loves being a fisher. She doesn’t know exactly where the future will take her, but one thing is absolutely certain: it will be somewhere at sea.