Fred Watson’s childhood dream of becoming a school teacher was dashed when, as a teenager, he was forced to take up fishing to help support his family, following the death of an older brother.
At just 13 years old, the youngest of ten children became the family’s breadwinner.
“I come from a complete fishing family and, really, I didn’t want to be a fisherman. But my brother was the breadwinner and he died, so then I had no other choice so I started fishing to help my mother and the children,” Watson told .Barbados TODAY.
And so, the teenager followed in the footsteps of his father, older brothers and other members of the Watson family in St John, to make a living from the sea. He started catching lobsters, crabs, snappers, and other seafood, before working on ice boats and launch boats, and he grew to love the sea.
“Being a fisherman, sometimes it does be hard, but to me fishing is a pleasure. You got nuff pleasure in fishing . . . We had sailboat race, had lots of races to make you feel happy,” Watson said.
He recalled going adrift several times, with little way of calling for help.
“The engine broke down. I went to Martinique, went to St Vincent, in Montserrat, and to St Lucia,” the now elderly gentleman said with a chuckle.
“When you’re at sea for eight days, not seeing no land, not seeing anybody to help you . . . We didn’t have equipment in those days, we couldn’t call nobody. [I had] only a flag.”
Watson admitted that the first time going adrift was a terrifying experience.
“I gone to Martinique and they speaking French and I don’t know no French. The people asking you [questions] and you don’t know.”
He said conditions for fishermen today have improved, although the trade itself has become more difficult, especially given the recent challenges with the Sargassum seaweed.
But he believes it is still a viable career option for young people.
“If the young boys keep out of drugs, they can make a living fishing. Do like me and do everything you could. I made nets, all kinds of nets, and fish pots too. I’s a complete fisherman!” Watson declared.
Members of the fishing community and other officials fully agree with that declaration, as Watson has copped eight awards for best fisherman.
The veteran fisher who celebrated his 92nd birthday yesterday, lives on his own in Martins Bay, St John, and still casts his net from time to time.
“Most of my fishing is in Consett Bay or in town. I ain’t old you know!” he laughed.
Watson said he is still capable of taking care of himself but help is at hand when he needs it.
“I got my children to call, and my grandchildren love me bad. When I not fishing, I get up early and cook something to eat and feed the cats. I got eight cats and a dog. I make sure they get their food, and then on evenings I go to the shop and sit down and relax with the fellas, because I drink rum every day.”
The secret to his longevity, he said, in addition to his daily shot of rum, is a healthy diet – including fish, of course.
“I eat fish every day – fish, yam, potatoes, rice, some black pepper with my seasoning. I don’t eat no vegetables. I hear doctors say the spray [pesticide] is what give a lot of women breast cancer and the men prostate cancer. So if the doctor say so, it’s so. I keep away from that. I don’t get no pain, no worries,” Watson said.
He may not have become a school teacher as he wanted to, but he did end up imparting knowledge of the sea and the fishing trade to younger men.
“Nuff fishermen came to fish with me. And I treat them fairly. They have some men want to carry out a man to fish with them but they don’t want to give him money; but not me. From the first day a man went to fish with me he get the same amount of money because if the boat sink he’ll get the same death as me,” Watson said.
He maintained that fishing is honest work, and he would like to see more young men get involved.