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Episode 1 - The one a-boat fishery officers - part 1

April 27, 2022

Join Lauren and Mikey as they sit down with Jillian MacPhee, a fishery officer in PEI, to discuss how she got into the field and why she loves her job; Heather McCready, Director General of Conservation and Protection at DFO,  discusses how her unique career path led her to this department, and what goes into being a fishery officer.

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Episode 1 – The one a-boat fishery officers (part 1) – Audio transcript


I grew up in a small fishing community in Prince Edward Island. My dad, my two brothers fish, and a lot of my other family members, so fishing was a big part of the community life where I grew up in PEI.

Jillian MacPhee, Fishery Officer

Lauren: Welcome to the DFO Deep Dive, I’m Lauren...

Mikey: And I am Mikey, and we are your hosts. Lauren, what do we have on the go for today’s podcast?

Lauren: On today’s show we have some very exciting guests, we'll be speaking with Heather McCready, Director-General of Conservation and Protection here at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but first let's chat with Jillian MacPhee, she's a fishery officer in PEI and has some great stories to share from not her so average day-to-day job.

Mikey: Well Lauren, let’s dive right in.

Lauren: Welcome Jillian!

Jillian MacPhee (Fishery Officer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada): Hi, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Lauren: So, I know if you live by water, you would be familiar with a fishery officer, but some people… we’re located here in Ottawa, we don’t have many, can you go through the roles of what a fishery officer is?

MacPhee: Yeah, absolutely. And since becoming a fishery officer, I’ve learned so much about what a fishery officer actually does. I think it would be fair to say even before I became one, I was naïve in the role and the duties of fishery officer, so I think a very important message to spread and share with everybody.

So, some of the main duties of a fishery officer would be to promote conservation and sustainable fishing practices in communities across Canada. One of our biggest roles is determine compliance with the Fisheries Act and its regulations, and that work is really variable. We work on Canada's three coasts, we work in inland waters, a variety of terrains, on land, on sea and in the air, it encompasses quite a bit.

Lauren: Yeah, it sounds like it. And it's a very specialized role.

How do you get into this line of work?

MacPhee: Yeah, absolutely you're correct in saying it is specialized. We’re law enforcement so we're an investigative body, so part of our duties as well is to collect evidence and bring any non-compliance with the Fisheries Act, the regulations, to court as well. For me personally, getting into this role, I grew up in a small fishing community in Prince Edward Island. My dad, my two brothers fish, and a lot of my other family members, so fishing was a big part of the community life where I grew up in PEI.

Essentially in May, when the lobster fishermen set their traps, the community became alive again, so a lot of my upbringing revolved around the fishing industry. I was fortunate enough as well to live in a community that had a DFO office, so I was familiar with fishery officers, used to seeing them around and kind always interested in what they did.

Mikey: You mention community a lot in your last answer, and people might think that a fish officer is more there to enable the Fisheries Act, however you guys do a lot of community work, could you kind of elaborate on that a little bit?

MacPhee: Absolutely. A lot of our job revolves around public outreach, educational sessions. I know I’ve been involved, and many officers in my office, in doing school presentations. We hold presentations with local Indigenous groups to educate them on different measures and some new measures, and we do a lot of outreach with industry and our fishing associations, as well as provide client services at our door responding to any number of inquiries, from fishing rules and regulations, new measures, licensing questions. You name it and we've probably dealt with it.

Lauren: I assume to understand all this educational content and information, you probably need a certain amount of education or training, what exactly… say I wanted to be a fishery officer, what education and training would I have to go through to get there?

MacPhee: Yeah, absolutely. And I know it's evolved over the years as well, whenever I applied in and got in, a university degree was required and now I know the education requirements have slightly changed and I think will continue to change. And same with some of the standardized testing, but I know the DFO website, Becoming a Fishery Officer, has all the relevant information there as well, if anyone needs more information.

But another important aspect of our role as a fishery officer too, is to promote our job and especially reach out to youth and community members who may be interested in the job. And we do do a lot of that, and which has helped to get some local people especially interested. I know for myself I had some great influences in my life, I had a family member who is a fishery officer, and a close friend. It was some of the influence from them and some of their great stories and experiences, and how they talked about the job that got me into this line of work as well.

Mikey: Wow, that's really interesting.

So, Jillian, for how long have you been a fishery officer at DFO?

MacPhee: I became a fishery officer in 2015, and I started in the Alberton PEI Detachment, and I'm still here today.

Mikey: On the website, I saw that it could take up to three years to be fully trained fishery officer, could you elaborate a little bit on your personal experience going through that long training program?

MacPhee: Absolutely. So, once you get screened in and accepted into the cadet program, that's approximately four months long. So, during the cadet training program you learn a lot theory and also take part in the Fishery Officer enforcement course, which teaches you your police defensive tactics, some more of your policing theory, your firearms training and drill and deportment. So, once you complete the Fishery Officer Cadet Training Program, you're deployed to your office, which could be anywhere in Canada.

Once you get your office you go through a FOCPP program, which is a Fishery Officer Career Progression Program, and that's a 30-month duration. It’s split into two, so the first progression is 18 months long, and during this time you work with a field coach to learn the necessary skills and develop the necessary competencies you need to get promoted to the next level. And following this it’s another 12-month period where you work with the same field trainer, again to get the necessary skills to bring you to what we call a GT4 Fishery Officer Level, which is your field level fishery officer.

Lauren: You mentioned that there's firearm training in there, which I'm not sure if most people know that fishery officers do carry firearms, among other things. What kind of goes into that and what's the feeling of... there's probably a lot more that goes into your role?

MacPhee: Yeah, and I think… I think most people agree, that would be a fair assessment to say that people are surprised that fishery officers carry firearms as law enforcement officers. And I know, for myself, I was probably a little naive as well when I started, I had no firearms experience whatsoever going into the fishery officer enforcement course. So, for me, shooting was a first-time experience and possibly one of the more challenging things to me.

Lauren: That makes a lot of sense, and that actually leads me to my next question, was I'm sure there's a lot of great things about fishery officers but you probably face a lot of challenges in your line of work. Do you maybe want to go through some of the challenges you encounter on a daily basis?

MacPhee: Yeah, for sure. And you know, that's an interesting question because I think that would vary depending who you ask, and which also… it speaks to the diversity of the job. And like I said earlier, for me, firearms, that was a brand-new experience. But luckily the fishery officer enforcement course, it's a very supportive environment where they want to see you succeed, so whether you're a beginner, whether you’re advanced, the support system is there for you. For me, that was an example that showed myself that I can push through, and I can do hard things, even if I'm a beginner working with a lot of more advanced shooters.

So, I think that was… that was definitely a challenge.

So again. for me, one of my biggest challenges was vessel operation. Before becoming a fishery officer, I had never operated a vessel even though I grew up in a fishing family in a fishing community. So, I was sent on a course, actually, it's called the RIDE (?) course and it's a vessel operator course put on by the Coast Guard, and it's a week-long course, it's a mix of theory and boat operation, at night, in adverse weather, the day, it's physically and mentally demanding with long hours.

And I had limited experience, I was fortunate enough to have a lot of great officers here in my local office who have boating experience and worked with me to prepare me for… with the skills I needed for that course and to be successful in that course, but it was difficult. But for me, at the end of it, when I passed it and finished it, it showed me I could do hard things, and I think that was… that's really important. And same in a fishery officer job, there’s so many challenges but there's a very supportive environment, we're very team-centric, we all work together, and everyone wants to see each other do well and succeed. So there is… there's a capacity to overcome a lot of these challenges, which is… which itself, I guess, is actually a reward and not a challenge.

Lauren: Well, it’s… I need to ask this, because I know we hear certain things in the media, but as a woman and a fishery officer, do you find you have the support you need, do you find there are challenges involved or you can just do your job, it doesn't matter what gender?

MacPhee: Yeah, I think that is a great question, and I think there's a great, great network of support for women in DFO, and I think we're seeing more women get into DFO in general, and as fishery officers, which is very important in diversifying our workforce.

An interesting story, one of my most favorite moments actually, and it's… it was nothing significant, but it was a patrol, it was a Sunday night and a coworker of mine who also happens to be female, we're doing a halibut patrol off the coast of Prince Edward Island. It was an absolutely beautiful evening, the water was flat calm, the sunset was beautiful. And we were two women at the wharf offloading a vessel, we were met by fishermen on the water, we are in some of the ports and we had received a lot of comments, like two women in a boat! Like people were absolutely shocked. But I think it was a neat opportunity to challenge some of those stereotypes, that women can do these things too and women are capable of doing these things.

So I mean, like I said, that was one of my favorite… favorite memories becoming a fishery officer, there's nothing greatly significant about it but it always stuck out in my mind as something that was important and one of my favorite memories.

Lauren: And on the topic of women breaking barriers, let's meet our next special guest the one who oversees Conservation and Protection Enforcement here at DFO. She has a fascinating career path which led her to us. Please welcome Director-General of C&P, Heather McCready. Welcome Heather.

Heather McCready (Director-General of Conservation and Protection, DFO): Hi Lauren.

Lauren: Let's dive right in! So, Director-General of Conservation and Protection, that's… that's quite the role. Can you kind of break it down for us and let us know what your role is within DFO?

McCready: I’d love to. So Conservation and Protection is the Department at Fisheries and Oceans enforcement program, and we have actually just over 1,000 staff across the country, most of whom are fisheries officers enforcing fishery laws and regulations across the country. And I am the functional head of that program, so I am the person who is accountable for that program to the Minister and Deputy Minister, and often to the public. So, my role really is to lead that program, provide general direction, which I guess is in my title, advocate for what the officers need and really shape the program for what Canadians need.

Lauren: How does your law knowledge inform your work here at DFO now?

McCready: It does a lot, and it's something that I'm really glad I have and it's something I lean on a lot. I certainly did at Environment Canada, and I absolutely do here. Learning law, it's the type of profession where the training you get for it, much like if you're becoming a doctor or an engineer, it shapes who you are, and it shapes how you see the world. So, I feel like I'm legally obligated to tell you that I'm not currently a practicing lawyer...

Lauren: We know (laughs).

McCready: There’s probably some bar society that requires me to say that, but I feel like working in enforcement and leading enforcement programs is how I practice law, And that's something that I talk about, I sometimes guest lecture at law schools or show up for a career day at McGill Law, and I think sometimes they have me as the resident “you don't have to be a lawyer” spokesperson for people who want a different path. And I feel like I'm still practicing law, I feel like I'm actually practicing law a lot more now than I did when I was working in a corporate law firm and really just reviewing documents and making charts.

Here we take the law and we make it live. You can write a law, you can write a regulation – and by the way, if there any law students out there listening to this podcast, the Government of Canada offers some really amazing jobs in writing legislation and writing regulations, and it is incredible if you get nerdy and passionate about that kind of thing like I do. But what I really love about enforcement is we then take that law and we make it alive. We apply it in the world. And we take ideas on paper and make them real by encouraging, or sometimes when necessary compelling people to follow those laws and regulations. If we just wrote them down and didn't do any enforcement, do they really mean anything?

So, having that legal background, understanding what the intention is behind the laws and regulations that we have, being able to read those things in a certain way, as well being able to liaise with the public prosecution service, who are the people who prosecute the cases that we bring to them, it's a real asset to understand their world and their language and to understand the words on the page that we're trying to turn into life. So, I find it's a huge asset; it's not something that most people in this profession have, so it's something that I've always had that was a little bit different than everybody else, but also so obviously helpful.

Lauren: Absolutely, and it's so fascinating.

So, the focus of this podcast is fishery officers...

McCready: Yes!

Lauren: And that's obviously who you oversee, so let's start with… I mean it’s enforcing the law, that’s what fishery officers do, but what do you think are some of the misconceptions about fishery officers out there that maybe need some addressing, that people should know?

McCready: What I've learned over the course of the year of being here and getting to get out and meet some fishery officers, is you'll immediately be struck by the passion that they have for the job, and the passion that they have for conserving and protecting Canada's aquatic resources. In many cases our officers come from long lines of fish harvesters, so it's really in their blood, it's in their culture, it's something that they grew up understanding. For other people, they might come at it from a science background, they did marine biology in school and then really wanted to take action to protect marine resources, so that's the angle they come at it from. Other people have worked at other law enforcement programs, and then ended up gravitating towards this work, they love being out in nature and they love having that connection with nature.

So, I think it's that passion there that really fuels them and it's a little bit different than some other law enforcement programs because it takes on this environmental conservation and resource protection kind of role, so it's a little bit different than traditional policing in that way. So, I think that's the first thing that would strike people if they actually got to spend some time with fishery officers.

The other thing I think that is a misconception, so the officers are in uniforms, they look like law enforcement. That's on purpose, it's a way of communicating to the public about the types of powers that they have, and that people need to treat them as law enforcement because it's what they are. And they have defensive tools such as a side arm and a baton and OC spray – which most people know of as pepper spray. And so I think when you see somebody equipped like that, sometimes people look at that and think that's kind of aggressive and may react in that way, why are you so aggressive about this. And all of those tools are really there as defensive tools, they're not weapons. They're not meant to be an assertive thing; they are there to protect the officer in the course of their duties.

And there… it is a very dangerous job that they do, so there is a need for those tools. But what most officers are trying to do most of the time is get a result that is positive for conserving the resource, and that's not always… in fact it's most often not done with force. We do a lot of education, we do a lot of community outreach, we help people understand what the rules are and explain to them why they're important. And if we can achieve that, the conservation objective that way as opposed to issuing a ticket or arresting somebody or doing something like that, then that's absolutely what we're going to do.

When you see situations where we are actually taking enforcement action, the officers have discretion of whether or not they're going to do that based on the situation they see in front of them, and most people, most of the time, are looking for a more positive outcome where there… it’s a much more cooperative type situation. So, I think sometimes people expect one kind of experience when they see a fishery officer but actually get something very different, that's a lot more collaborative. And I wish people understood more about that.

Mikey: Well, those are two very interesting conversations, Lauren.

Lauren: Mikey, they sure were, but there’s so much more to talk about. Coming up on our next episode, we check in with Jillian again as she tells us some great stories about life in the field and Heather McCready tells us what goes into being a fishery officer and when to look for recruitment and how to apply.

Lauren: See you next time.

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