Barbara Coffins

I am a fisher woman from Seldom, Fogo Island. For the past nine years I have worked at the Fogo Island Co-op Fish Plant. Before that I fished in the boat with my husband. We fished from a cod trap.

A good week of fishing for us would have been between fifty and sixty barrels of cod. During the last few years before the moratorium, my husband found a gradual decline in the amount of cod caught. My hours were cut way down at the fish plant. Things were starting to get really tough and it was getting to the point where you knew something had to give.

Fishing had gotten very undependable. What made it more difficult was the long wait between the time my husband stopped fishing (or making money) and when he could apply for U.I. Bills began to pile up from one year to the next.

When the moratorium cheques started coming, things began to get a little easier. It gave the people a chance to catch up and still maintain a good standard of living. The people in my community began to breathe easily.

My goal for the future is to be able to find long term employment outside the fishery. With the moratorium came the opportunity to go back to school an to retrain, so I decided to try it. I was 16 years old and in grade eight when I quit school and 31 years old when I went back.

I did upgrading six hours a week for two months at the FFAW Training Center in Fogo. Then I attended the Community College, where I completed Level One of a ABE Course. From there I went to the Career Academy and completed Levels Two and Three. By now I had goal number one accomplished.

The main reason why I went back to school was because of my three children. They were coming home with homework and I didn't know enough to help them with it. I would make excuses like 'I have to go to the store or I have to do the dishes'. I'd always have some excuse. It made me feel both guilty and frustrated. When the opportunity to go back to school came, I grabbed it with both hands.

When I first started there were times when I had many mental blocks, and times when I wanted to give it up. But my kids encouraged me by saying they would help, they did help me through a lot of things that I didn't understand. Also, I had the help of family and friends. And my instructors were excellent, you couldn't get any better.

One time I was about to write one of my final exams and I received a call saying my husband had crushed his foot in an accident at work. I spent ten days in a St. John's hospital with him.

After, with absolutely no studying done, I wrote the exam and ended up with 55% on it. Although the rest of my marks were in the 80's and 90's I felt really good about this one because even with all the turmoil, I still managed to pass.

When I finished the ABE Program, I would have liked to have gone further with my education but there are no courses offered on Fogo Island. I am interested in Early Childhood Education or Human Service Worker/Student Assistant. If either of these courses were offered on the Island, I would be able to reach another one of my goals. I am checking into the possibility of doing it through a correspondence course but that would be a second choice for me.

After the ABE, I did two weeks of training in Fogo and two weeks in Grand Fails to become a trained literacy tutor. The course was sponsored by the Fogo Island Literacy Association. I found it to be a really good experience. My job at the fish plant has prevented me from tutoring anyone yet, but when things slow down I will contact Delia Coish at the Literacy Association and find a student to work with. I would like to help other people who are struggling with reading and writing.

My advice to anyone who is considering going back to school is: GO FOR IT! It will be tough at first but in the end it's really rewarding. Set small goals for yourself at first, then move up after the smaller ones have been accomplished. Going back to school gave me self-confidence and self-esteem. But, you have to reach out and grab it. I highly recommend it to others.

With my Laubach training I will be offering help to anyone who needs it. If I can help only one person, then another one of my goals will have been reached.

I think the cod will come back. The Sentinel Experimental Fishery is reporting a lot of cod on the grounds now. Also, fishermen are getting twenty to twenty-five cod a day in their herring nets. They are all big fish! So that's a good sign.

The fish are there because I've seen them with my own eyes. My husband and I went to get capelin to spread on our vegetable garden and we could see cod among the capelin.

I don't think the moratorium will last until the suggested 1999 period. Should the cod fishery open again, I think it should go the same way as the crab fishery. Give the fishermen a quota. When that quota is taken, then cut the season off again.

If you can fish your cod one week and your crab the next, the people on Fogo Island will be able to maintain a living. I figure most people would then be able to survive for a while and we wouldn't have as many people leaving the Island.


  1. What is Barbara's goal for the future?
  2. Why were Barbara's children the main reason why she went back to school? What were some of the feelings she experienced before she decided to go back?
  3. What is Barbara's advice to anyone considering going back to school?

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