A Day in the Life of a 3rd Generation Fishermom
Posted on 30 September 2021
For as far back as she can remember, fishing has dominated Corey Wheeler Forrest's life. The scent of the ocean and lobster bait lingered in the hallway of her childhood home; she listened to her parents and grandparents discuss weather conditions and the state of equipment; and family fishing stories were told and retold until reality blended with legend and they all became lore. At first hesitant to pick up the family business, Corey didn't step on a fishing boat until she was 20 years old, but now she can't imagine doing anything else. Today, Corey's family is one of the last to practice trap fishing.
So, what is trap fishing? Corey explains in an article for The Filson Journal, "Trap fishing is a unique fishery to Rhode Island; it’s been around for hundreds of years, yet we are some of the last to fish this way. We are licensed to set in the same spots every year off the coast of Little Compton and Newport, a short boat ride from the dock. It is a sustainable, passive fishery; we don’t use bait, the fish have to come to us. If they don’t, we miss them. The floating fish traps are like a giant aquarium, held in place by twenty-six, 900-pound anchors, where fish are funneled into the head of the trap where they can’t escape. Everything is alive, so anything we can’t keep because of quota or size restrictions, is thrown back and swims away. At the core of trap fishing we are working with nature. However, it is incredibly labor and equipment intensive, which is why there are only a few of us left that fish this way. As my dad says, 'If it were easy, everyone would do it.'”
Get to know Corey, her dad, and the art of trap fishing in The Last Trap Family, a short documentary by Indie Lens Storycast »
Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
My name is Corey Wheeler Forrest, married to an Irish lad from Cork, Ireland for 20 years. We have two children, Finn, 18, and Isley, 14. I am a third generation commercial fisherman and fish dealer.
How long has your family been in the fishing industry?
My family has been fishing out of Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, Rhode Island since the 1940s.
What does it mean to you to carry on this tradition with your family? We are part of Rhode Island’s oldest, sustainable fishery called trap fishing where we use big floating nets and haul by hand, fingers in the twine. We are some of the last to fish this way.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m usually up before my alarm goes off at 4:10am. I like my mornings quiet and slow before the boat leaves the dock. Sunscreen, brew the coffee, I usually make a healthy smoothie to drink later in the day. I love the slow 25 min drive to work, coffee in hand, audio book playing, as the sun rises through farm land, passed stone walls, to the dead end that is literally our dock at Sakonnet Point. We head out toward our fish traps at 6am off the coast of Newport, about a 40 minute boat ride. We harvest the fish, head back to the dock and offload the boat: sort, box, ice, and load the truck for shipping. I also handle selling all the fish to buyers up and down the east coast, plus paperwork and reporting all we catch to a fisheries website.
Who have some of your biggest influences been, both in the fishing industry and in your life in general?
I'm grateful for the fishermen, including my dad, and my fish dealers, who genuinely welcomed me, in a still very male-dominated industry, and showed me the ropes; it’s not all calm seas and picturesque sunrises. Outside the fishing industry, I've always found solace in books, female authors and poets. It’s a welcome counter-balance.
What do you like to do for fun off of the boat?
My dad, 74, and I, go for a beach run/ride most days after work. I'm on foot, he’s on a fat tire bike and at the end, we reward ourselves by jumping in the water. It's a good way to end the day.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have a special place in my heart for Vermont. I attended college there (Saint Michael’s College class of 1999) and it definitely helped instill my love for the outdoors and wide-open spaces. Oh, and cheese.