Language selection


Episode 2- The one a-boat fishery officers - part 2

May 4, 2022

In part two of our series, Lauren and Mikey discuss training and skills with fishery officer Jillian MacPhee, as well as interesting and exciting stories from out on the water. Following that, Heather McCready, Director General of Conservation and Protection at DFO outlines what goes into recruitment of officers as well as some of the great work they do in our communities.

Learn more

Episode 2- The one a-boat fishery officers - part 2 – Audio transcript


“I think this is a great opportunity to showcase what a fishery officer does, and hopefully educate the general public. It’s the greatest job in the world.”

-- Jillian MacPhee, Fishery Officer

Lauren: Hi there and welcome back to the DFO Deep Dive. I’m Lauren…

Mikey: And I’m Mikey.

Lauren: Coming up on today’s episode, we welcome back Jillian MacPhee, a fishery officer from PEI and Heather McCready Director-General of Conservation and Protection here at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Mikey: If you tuned in to our first show, Jillian was discussing what a fishery officer is and breaking down barriers as a woman in the industry.

Lauren: Let's catch up with her again as we discuss what a day in the life of a fishery officer looks like, and some really cool experiences she's had in the field.

Welcome back Jillian. We know you deal with people from all walks of life and there is a lot of tough legislation to deal with and enforce, so how do you go about communicating with the public, with the fishers and kind of deal with the rules and regulations of Fisheries and Oceans?

Jillian Macphee(Fishery Officer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada): Yeah, absolutely, and that's a good point because that does happen frequently. With us, one of the biggest things is training; we train for these situations, so we're prepared. Our training environments are very realistic and taken very seriously, so again, that prepares us and gives us the skills we need in the field to deal with these situations.

We also rely on each other, we have a team, so you can… you have other fishery officers there to help you, you're not always… you’re not by yourself all the time, so you have team members to help you deal with people like this. De-escalation, using your communication, a really, really important skill in calming someone down. And listening, listening and taking the time to understand; another important skill. They sound so basic, even outside of most of our formalized specialized training, but they're at the forefront of everything, and I think very important skills in dealing with some situations as you described.

Mikey: Just to touch back on what you're talking about here, but in terms of developing relationships and collaborations with the fishermen, so you think that plays a key role in them understanding the kind of messaging that you guys are trying to put out because policies and rules and regulations constantly change?

Macphee: So, like you said, relationship building is a really important aspect of the fishery officer job. We deal with clients a lot of the times during the commercial fishing activities, so we’re there to inspect catches, inspect gear, but I think it's also important to be a face outside of their work. And whether that be talking to people when they’re repairing gear in their barns, in the comfort of their homes, whether that be at the local shops, and in and around the community.

But one other thing from my personal experience I found was of great benefit, was to get involved in the community outside of your work as a fishery officer. For myself that was a hockey rink. Here in PEI, a lot of the winter months, for most of the community, is centered around the hockey rink. So, it's such a great place to build some rapport outside of your actual duties, although we all know, once a fishery officer, always a fishery officer.

Lauren: You just said, “once a fishery officer, always a fishery officer,” so I need to ask, when you’re off-duty, how much can you let go of your fishery, can you enjoy being on the water now, now that you do what you do? Can you enjoy it in just a regular person kind of way, or are you always kind of on duty simply because that's your job?

Macphee: In the back of your mind, you're always on duty, absolutely. I mean, for myself personally, I'm immersed in it. My family… my family fishes so, you know, whether I’m… whether I'm at home or whether I'm at work, there's always going to be fishing talk, and you know, I enjoy that, and I like that.

Lauren: I love that.

So, let me ask you: you've talked about so many positive aspects of the job, what are some of the things you find the most rewarding in your… either your day-to -day job or just overall?

Macphee: Like we talked about earlier, I think one of the most rewarding things is being able to work with people, and work with people in the local communities and making a difference, and doing this together in a lot of situations. We work closely with industry and community groups here in PEI and… to make changes that make a positive difference, that will contribute to conservation and sustainability.

I think for me that's one of the most rewarding, is… it's the people.

Lauren: For sure. And, I mean, I guess… because Mikey touched on it earlier, but rules, regulations, policies constantly changing, but as well probably the technology you use is ever-changing, there's dark vessel detection and ways to combat illegal fishing; how do you keep educated and keep up with all of the ever-changing technology, rules, regulations in place?

Macphee: You're correct, there is a lot of changes, and you know, one small one which from when I started is now officers are all equipped with cell phones. Five years ago, we didn't have that. We had few people with cell phones, and we had office land lines, so that's a… that's a huge change in how we do work. We can do work on the road now, so that’s… that's a positive.

Rules and regulations, we’re kept in the loop on those quite often. You know, we have a chain of command, and a lot of the changes are always sent and funneled down through the chain of command, so we're aware of a lot of that.

And as far as specialized equipment, you know, there has been a lot of changes both within DFO and within the commercial fishing industry, so we're fortunate to get training… or receive training on the use and implementation of that as well.

And again, DFO is becoming more specialized, so we have more specialized units that can take care of some of these things, so it takes some of the burden off the fishery officers as well.

Lauren: What do you find most rewarding about being a fishery officer?

Macphee: So, another rewarding part of the career is that there's so many opportunities you're presented with. You could spend your entire career as a fishery officer working in your field office, or you could aspire to, you know, climb the ladder per se to be the director of C&P in your region. There's so many supports in place for career progression and career development.

But the overarching message is that, at all levels we need good people, and DFO is very supportive in developing their people at all levels so that they have the skills and the capacity to do the best at their job, because at the end of the day, we're all one team. So, I think that's a really rewarding thing, is that there's so many opportunities and so much support within the team to aspire to do what you want to do in your career.

And it is what you make it. I know what for myself I've had a lot of different unique opportunities. I've got… I’ve been fortunate enough to have some specialized training and take on some other roles outside of my regular fishery officer duties because I've showed some interest in some different things, so for me that's a huge reward. Like I said, it's what you make it, and I think it's important for everyone to take any opportunity they can.

Lauren: I really want to touch on that actually because it's interesting that you say everyone’s supportive, and you can get specialized training. There are a lot of people who are interested in ocean conservation and protection; they want to be out on the water; what are those people who face limitations, possibly, if you had sea sickness and you can't be on a boat all the time but you still really want to work in the field or, you know, you're maybe not comfortable carrying a firearm, or you're not good with confrontation? Are there different streams or different aspects of being a fishery officer that people can slide into, or do you really have to have a good sense of being on the water and being comfortable with approaching people and all of that?

Macphee: Yeah, and that's a great question.

I mean, as far as you carrying a firearm, personal protective equipment, those are all necessary components of the job, so everyone has to do that. If you weren’t comfortable and you didn't pass the qualifications, you wouldn't be working in the field.

But it's funny when you say seasickness, I'm someone who battles seasickness. So, I've been in a boat before, I enjoy being on the water, and I’ve worked on the water, and it's something I kind of… I had to fight through and learn to fight through and have. Is it enjoyable all the time? No.

But again, it's one of those things that shows you, you can do hard things, you can overcome things, and get your job done.

Mikey: In terms of your day-to-day life, what's it like? I mean I know your job changes really from one day to the next depending on what's happening, but what's kind of a typical day in the life of a fishery officer for yourself?

Macphee: Yeah, and that's again a great question.

I think the best way to describe that and to answer that is to expect the unexpected.

So, any day you could go in to your job as a fishery officer and you could be doing dockside inspections, you could be doing surveillance, you could be operating a vessel, testifying in court, holding an education session, and all of a sudden, you get a call that you're needed somewhere, and your whole day changes and all of your priorities change.

And this has happened to me numerous times. For example, marine mammals -- we've had some marine mammal strandings -- and we were on a vessel patrol and had to stand down from our vessel patrol to respond to that.

But I think that's an important skill of a fishery officer too, to be able to adapt and manage competing priorities. And it makes you a well-rounded officer, too.

So, there's a lot of interesting days in patrols as a fishery officer, but one that comes to mind is a situation in 2017 when there was the North Atlantic right whale mortalities. And as a fishery officer, one of my tasks, along with my team, was to assist in towing these animals to shore where the scientists and vets could do a necropsy to determine the cause of death. So, we actually had three right whales which we towed to shore. We had participation from local fishery officers all across Prince Edward Island, right up to the RDG actually who came in and did surveillance on the whale overnight onshore. We worked with the marine mammals’ team as well and the Atlantic Veterinary College here in Prince Edward Island, so that was a neat… a really neat experience to work with people in all different levels and different sectors.

And that 2017 North Atlantic right whale situation, for me, that was the first time I'd ever seen a whale that close. I’ve seen some small porpoises, but just seeing this North Atlantic right whale up close and personal, and its enormous size, it gave me a new appreciation for what we do as fishery officers and why we do it as well.

So, as far as highlighting the importance of what we do as fishery officers, another very important initiative is the ghost gear initiative. And I've been involved in a lot of gear clean-ups after local fishing areas close, to retrieve gear left there following the season to prevent ghost fishing, and I can think of many instances where traps were pulled and there was a lot of dead lobster and a lot of fish because they were trapped in there, and if we didn't retrieve that gear, would be trapped for eternity basically. And I can think of many situations where nets were hauled, and it was amazing to me to see just how many lobster and how many other types of small fish species were entangled in that, and how challenging when we got on board it was to release these animals and return them to the water and hopefully, they'll survive.

Lauren: We have Jillian MacPhee here, a regional fishery officer from Gulf Region.

Jillian, you have provided us with so much incredible information.

Is there anything more you want to add before we sign off?

Macphee: No, I think this is a great opportunity to showcase what a fishery officer does, and hopefully educate the general public and everybody on what it is we actually do. I think it's a very important message to spread, so I'm really happy to be here and be a part of getting the word out. To quote one of my supervisors, “it's the greatest job in the world,” and I fully agree with that assessment.

Mikey: Such fascinating stuff from Jillian, sounds like a great job.

Lauren: Now let's meet back up with Heather McCready, director general of Conservation and Protection, to give us her take on the everyday life of a fishery officer, recruitment, and challenges they face on a daily basis.

You touched on the community aspect of it, so can you talk a bit about how important fishery officers are, not only to enacting the Fishery Act, but in the communities?

Heather McCready(Director-General of Conservation and Protection, DFO): So that's something I think that's really struck me about this program, that we cover things that you would see as large, classically federal things; we also cover things that are smaller in nature, but it's all part of our mandate and it's all really important.

And this program is also very, very old. Fisheries and Oceans is about 150 years old, and the enforcement function has existed as long as the department. So, it's been a part of the Canadian fabric since Canada became Canada. There are little C&P – Conservation and Protection – detachment offices all over the place, particularly on the east and west coast, and those little offices have been there for generations, and there are generations of fishery officers who have worked there. So, they have become knit into the fabric of Canadian society in so many parts of Canada over just decades and decades and decades, so they are a very important part of their community.

And because we have the entire mandate for fisheries, and it's not split federally and provincially in the same way that environment is, in many cases, and because we have all these little offices all over the place, we are the only part of government that anybody sees in that community. So, our officers carry with them really the entire federal government, and frankly sometimes the provincial role as well. Sometimes it’s like they’re social workers, they’re so embedded in the fabric of that community and so involved in people's lives, they'll sometimes get calls at 3:00 in the morning from people about fisheries things…

Lauren: Oh wow!

McCready: but then maybe it's really about something else. So, the personal aspect of this, is that the volume on that is really turned up here in comparison to other places I've worked, and I think that's something that really impacts on the character of the program, and also what fishery officers are required to do. It takes a very special person to answer that phone call at 3:00 in the morning, and understand that you're representing the entire Government of Canada when you do so, and to treat that person calling you with respect and to try and help them.

Lauren: You’ve actually walked into my next question, which was just about the qualities that makes for a good fishery officer?

McCready: You know, that's an interesting question, because I think it takes all kinds, and I think, especially today, we are actively trying to have a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and looking at hiring different types of people that we haven't hired before.

I think one of the incredible strengths of this program, as I mentioned, is that it’s got a 150-year-old history and we have numerous fishery officers here who are descended from a long lines of fishery officers. And that is something very special and something we definitely want to preserve, but at the same time, we want to add all sorts of different people from all kinds of different walks of life… lives, to give our program that rich diversity that will really carry it into the future.

So, I think it takes lots of different kinds of people to make a good fishery officer. But definitely you need to have… you need to care about the resource and be passionate about the work.

It's a hard job. Our officers are out in all kinds of weather conditions. You know, being outside all day long, people hear that and think, wow, that sounds amazing… not in February in the middle of a storm! So, there are lots of days where their jobs are actually very hard and very dangerous, and so having a passion for the resource and really caring about preserving the fisheries resources, habitat, aquatic species, oceans in general; having that connection and that passion, I think carries you through those hard days.

Having patience to deal with people who are sometimes very angry. Fishing is a huge part of the fabric of life in Canada, and that's something that I've definitely learned over the past year, I thought I understood how important fishing was to our way of life, but I don't think I really had any idea until I came here. And often there are disputes between people who have a stake in the resource and a conflict with another group, and fishery officers are quite often caught in the middle of that.

So, having the patience to deal with that and be the judgment of how to handle those situations, and an ability to deal with people, and understand people, and understand different perspectives, and to really be… to show some empathy for the situation that people are in and try and understand things from their perspective and get resolution sometimes to conflict. It's not an easy job.

So, all of those characteristics I think are incredibly important, and it is what we look for, at the same time thinking about what sorts of skills do we need for the future; which is a whole other area to talk about.

Lauren: We can… we can dive right into that, but you just mentioned… before we dive into what we're looking for in the future, you mentioned that it's not an easy job, that there are a lot of challenges and what are… what are some of the challenges you encounter in your role and you… also that you see fishery officers encountering in their role?

McCready: I think they have a harder job than I do, frankly. It's… and one of the big reasons for that is – and this is very different from other places I've worked in the federal government – in small communities, particularly in Atlantic Canada, but I think this is true in a lot of other places in Canada, the fishery officers are very well-known and fishing is very important in the communities where they do most of their work, and they live in the small communities where they work. So, what I've noticed over the past year, particularly in some of our more stressful situations, they can't ever really go home from work. This is how I try to explain it to other people.

Imagine having a really, really hard day at work and then you get home from work and your child is crying because she got bullied at school about the same issue that you had to work on all day long. The other kids at school know that her father or mother is a fishery officer and are commenting on it to her about whether they're happy or unhappy about what you've done during the day. And then you go to the grocery store, and somebody knows you’re a fishery officer and wants to talk to you about this big stressful issue and might be really unhappy with what they think you're doing. And then you drop your kids off at hockey or ringette or soccer, or whatever they're doing, and the other parents know about this issue and know you’re a fishery officer and they work in fishing, and they want to talk to you about it.

I could go on and on and on, that's something that really struck me, probably within the first three or four weeks on the job, that you can't ever really take a day off. You might not be on the clock, but you still live in a fishing community, and everybody knows who you are. You walk around in your job even when you're not on the clock.

That's exceptional, that's not something that happens to most public servants.

Yes, my job is incredibly stressful, but I mean, particularly in the pandemic, I'm doing this from home on MS Teams, I'm not in any physical danger, it might be stressful, but I can turn off the computer and then it's over. When I go to Farm Boy to go grocery shopping, which is a small chain of grocery stores here in Ottawa, nobody is yelling at me from across the aisle as I’m reaching for a jar of pesto, wanting to talk about the issues I work on. So, I am very conscious of that, that they're in a very different situation than I'm in.

I think also that -- and I touched on this a little bit earlier -- the personal nature of the fishing industry in Canada. It is part of people's way of life, it is part of their culture, and it has been for generations, and so people take these issues very personally, and I don't mean that as… in a negative way necessarily, I mean that it is personal, so people take things personally. It changes the tone of the meetings that we have; it changes the way that we interact with stakeholders and rightsholders because it's much more emotional than some of the other things that I've worked on. And in in many ways that’s something I actually really love about it, that it touches people's lives so directly, and then of course it also is what makes it really hard. So, it is both a good and a bad thing about this type of job, that makes it equally rewarding and challenging.

Mikey: For sure.

In the last year that you've been in this position, have you been able to take a trip to see firsthand what's it like on the coast or up north?

McCready: So, I have, and… but I started in December of 2020, and it wasn't until September of 2021 that I was able to travel, obviously because of COVID, so I was kind of crawling out of my skin for those months where I was stuck behind a computer because one of the things I love the most about working in programs like this is getting out in the field, meeting officers, learning from them, working with them, and I wasn't able to do that initially for so long.

So, I started travelling in September, and I've been trying to get to as many parts of Canada as I can. I haven't been to nearly enough places yet, and as we're recording this, we're into another set of lockdowns over COVID, so some plans I had coming up I'm going to have to cancel, but I know I'll be able to do it again soon. So, so far, I've been to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, to British Columbia and up to Iqaluit, and then also to Greenland on the only international trip I’ve taken as part of my job so far, where I got to learn a lot about just the international breadth and scope of the fishing work in Canada.

I just can't tell you how incredibly rewarding and fulfilling it is for me to be out with officers, whether we're on the water, on the ocean, in a vessel, or we're in their trucks talking about what they do and they're showing me some of the work they do, on habitat protection, for example, which is of course not out on the ocean. And it's being able to see it with my own eyes and work with them and learn from them is the main reason I like working in these types of jobs.

So, it's been amazing to get out there and do that.

I'm just hoping I have an opportunity to do more going into the next year because there's so much to see and do, and the variety of work that we do across this country is… it's so fascinating.

And I just really love Canada.

Lauren: And it's clear that… I mean, we don't only have fishery officers on the east coast and west coast, they’re all across Canada. Let's talk about recruitment. Obviously, we need people all across Canada. What are some of the plans for recruitment for fishery officers?

What… how would someone go about becoming one?

McCready: So, we do regular competitions where you can apply to become a fishery officer and they're advertised online, and there’s usually a big social media campaign that goes with that. So, if you're interested in being a fishery officer, I suggest that you follow the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, and you're going to see those campaigns when they come out. There's usually one a year, and we're usually hiring all over the country, but sometimes with a special focus on one area or the other, depending upon where we need people.

And there are just so many offices across the country. It's a really incredible job to have if you want to explore Canada. It can be very hard for us to hire people who want to work in some of the smaller offices, particularly the ones that are more remote, but if you've got a spirit of adventure and you're curious about getting to know the really incredible country where we live, you should think about applying to be a fishery officer and signalling your interest in trying something that's way out of your comfort zone, or someplace you’d just love to explore, like Prince Rupert or Iqaluit or Campbell River or, you know, I could go on and on. There's really incredible parts of Canada that you’d have an opportunity to live and work in, and there aren't a lot of other places to work in those communities. So, they end up being very good jobs in some really incredible parts of Canada.

Mikey: In terms of positions and jobs, once you get trained, can you kind of transfer over from places to places in Canada, or you need specific training for specific regions?

McCready: All the fishery officers get a general training that is the same training, and so we’ll often have troops that have people from all different parts of the country. We actually just had a graduation ceremony last week, and it was really incredible to see all the different places the fishery officers are from, and then are going to.

And then once you work here, we do have a little bit of movement between regions and between locations. I mean I'd… I wouldn’t encourage people to get a job here and just take a job anywhere just to get your foot in the door with the intention of moving as soon as you possibly can. I think you should really be looking at this as making some sort of a commitment to the area that you're going to, especially the more remote areas where it can be really hard to staff; really putting some time in and giving that that location a chance and really wanting to try and be there.

But then we also… I mean there is... like I said we have over 1,000 people working all across the country, so there's usually room for people to move around when they need to. Sometimes their spouse or partner gets moved and we then try and find a spot for people in different parts of the country so that the family can move. And then sometimes we just have a need in a different place and so we may do call-out for people who might want to work somewhere temporarily or consider a longer-term move.

It's definitely one of the benefits, I think, of working for the federal government is you do, more or less, have access to the whole country, and so it's definitely, I think, a selling point to coming to work for us federally as opposed to working provincially or municipally.

Lauren: Being a fishery officer actually sounds incredibly fascinating and a lot of hard work. Now you… I mean your file is all conservation and protection. Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you're able to talk about or highlight?

McCready: Sure! There are so many, but I think I've spent a lot of time talking about some of the more traditional work that we do, which is so important, and is the thing that is probably the most visible to people, and that's the typical fisheries management-type of fishery enforcement, but there's also some really exciting new futuristic projects we're working on that I just get so excited to talk about. It’s… this program really is an incredible mix of a long history and tradition with some very exciting projects for the future.

So, one in particular that makes me really excited is, we have something called a Dark Vessel Detection Program.

Lauren: Hmm!

McCready: And so, I'll do my best to try and describe this, but I think you have another… another podcast you're doing with Sean Wheeler and our international program, so if people haven't caught that podcast I would direct them to look for that in the future, and he will be far more eloquent than I will describing this.

But basically, when vessels are out on the ocean, they need to emit certain signals about where they are and what they're doing – Sean will explain that much better than I just did – and there are some vessels that are not emitting any kind of signal; we call them dark vessels. And usually those vessels are dark on purpose and usually they're up to no good.

So, we have this Dark Vessel Detection Program that uses satellite data from a private provider and then also from the Department of National Defence, that we’re able to cobble together and analyze and actually locate dark vessels and distinguish between, for example, a dark vessel and an iceberg, which is also a large thing out there not emitting any kind of signal.

What we've been using this for, and it's a brand, brand new program, is actually… it's for international work, so it supports small island nation states and also Ecuador with their work to protect the Galapagos Islands, and it helps those countries identify dark vessels that are within their area who may or may not be fishing legally, and then they can deploy their enforcement resources more effectively.

So, it's something that Canada is giving to the world, and I'm just so incredibly proud of the work done on that project. I could take no credit for it because it had started just before I arrived, but it's something that I just really love talking about because the countries that we're working with are incredibly grateful for this technology, and they are sitting on some of the most important aquatic resources in the world, and we get to play a role in helping them protect them, which is amazing.

Lauren: Well, we appreciate the plug Heather, that was great, and it came so naturally! Well, Heather, it has been such a delight speaking with you, this has been such an eye-opening chat about kind of what goes on with Conservation and Protection and fishery officers, so we really appreciate you joining us today.

McCready: Thanks Lauren, it was great to have the opportunity to do this.

It's an easy program to get really excited about.

Thank you so much for having me.

Lauren: What a great chat with Heather. I feel like I've learned so much about fishery officers, what they do, and Jillian really shed some light on their day-to-day activities, and I had no idea that it's basically an around the clock job, like they really don't stop.

Mikey: You know, from my perspective, I also didn't realize how small the communities were that they lived in and how important they were to their community, not just in the fishery aspect but also just like in everyday life. They go to their grocery store, they get noticed, they go to the hockey rink, they get noticed, everyone knows who everybody is and what job they do, so I think it's quite the lifestyle to be a fishery officer.

I mean, you do a lot of good and you're always in the limelight.

Lauren: It's so true. And also, Jillian mentioning how it… it's kind of a family affair, that it runs in the family and it's in her blood. So, some great chat, we learned so much and next episode we're going to learn even more, because we've got an international angle, right?

Mikey: Yeah, exactly. We're going to be touching on something that probably a lot of people aren't really aware of, but we do some pretty cool work in the high seas off the coast of Japan, and we’ll get some of our fishery officers from that region that will jump on and have a conversation with us. They’ve got some pretty neat stories.

And I think to touch back on what you said before Lauren, we've also got some awesome, awesome French interviews. And it's kind of the same thing, our C&P officer for the French interview turns out to have come from a fishing background as well, and a whole family that were super involved in fishing throughout their whole life.

So, I think there's a lot to unpack over the next couple episodes, and I think it's really, really neat that we get to sit down with these people.

Lauren: I can't wait to hear all about it.

And if anyone listening has anything they want to hear us discuss on the show, any topics of interest, if you have any questions, concerns, please feel free to email us.

The link is in the description.

And very excited to dive in next time.

Listen on Google Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

Date modified: