The call of the sea runs in the family

 

On Sunday 21 November, World Fisheries Day will be celebrated around the globe, highlighting the importance of an economic sector that produces around 80 million tons of food and employs at least 40 million people.

A South African family that understands the importance of a vibrant and sustainable fishing industry is the Carelse family from Brackenfell. Father Reggie Carelse is one of the most experienced and successful skippers in South Africa’s hake deep-sea trawl fishery and since February this year his 19-year-old daughter, Michelle, has been working with the team of skilled artisans that services and repairs the equipment on board his ship.

Michelle is working as an apprentice at Sea Harvest’s Viking Fishing Division in Cape Town harbour. Dressed in safety boots, a hard hat and worker’s overalls, she is forging her own career in an industry that has captivated her since she was a small child.

“When my family would come to fetch me in the harbour after a fishing trip, I would take Michelle to the boat,” recalls Reggie. “I would have to take her to the engine room and she would ask a lot of questions – she’s very inquisitive. But then, when she was seven, I put her in the skipper’s chair and she said to me, ‘no Daddy, this is your place, I don’t want to work here, I want to work in the engine room’!”

Reggie was surprised and a little alarmed that his daughter’s desire to work at sea did not diminish over time. As soon as she completed her matric at Protea Heights Academy in 2020, she applied to work as an apprentice at the Viking Fishing Division.

“There was something pulling me towards boats,” says Michelle. “My dad didn’t try to talk me out of working at sea, but he did say to me ‘are you sure?’” I knew that this is what I wanted, to work on boats, so I asked him for the phone numbers and then I made the calls.”

Michelle is training in the electrical workshop at the Viking Fishing Division. She is part of the team of artisans that services and repairs the electrical equipment on board the company’s vessels. Once she has 18 months of experience under her belt, Michelle will attend college and start working towards a National N Diploma in Electrical Engineering, also called an “N6”. She is hoping that much of her practical training will be completed at sea, but for now she is content to be learning the ropes on the quayside, under the watchful eye of Foreman Allie Yaghya.

Her apprenticeship is grounded in the opportunity to work alongside qualified artisans and learn from them.

“I like to broaden my knowledge, so if we do something in electrical, another workshop will work with us, say for instance the refrigeration department, so I learn from them too, says Michelle. “If they are not actively teaching me, I just ask a lot of questions!”

This year, in order to study towards her N Diploma, Michelle re-sat her matric exams in mathematics and physical science.

Over the course of the year, Reggie has come to terms with the fact that Michelle will one day work at sea, and that in the future she might very well work alongside him.

For Michelle, the opportunity to work in an unusual field with a team of knowledgeable and helpful colleagues has been an enriching experience and she is more determined than ever to get a qualification that will enable her to work at sea and in the fisheries environment.

“I would encourage other young women to go into a career like this one,” she says, “there are so many options and so much to learn.”