Dodging huge waves and icebergs in small boats, fishermen risk their lives to make a living off Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast. Now a television series called Cold Water Cowboys follows six captains and their crews and they ride into the North Atlantic to try to make a living.
‘We don’t have to make up the drama’
“There’s a lot of drama in fishing off the coast of Newfoundland,” says David Paperny, executive producer and president of Paperny Entertainment. “We don’t have to make up the drama on this show.”
Fishing was a way of life in Newfoundland for hundreds of years. But overfishing caused a collapse of the cod stocks and a moratorium was placed on the fishery in 1992. That devastated the economy and many people left the province to seek a living elsewhere in Canada.
The few who remain go further afield and take risks to find other species like turbot, herring, capelin, shrimp and crab. Many come from families that have fished for 400 years.
‘They talk fast and furiously’
Much of the series is subtitled, because even Canadians can have trouble understanding the thick accent of Newfoundlanders, which sounds Irish, perhaps because many of the original settlers were from Ireland. “When they’re jumping around the boats trying to save their nets and save their lives, they talk fast and furiously with each other…they are a bit challenging to understand,” says Paperny.
It was a difficult shoot. Cameras had to be wrapped in plastic and duct tape to protect them from the seawater while shooting on the boats. It was cramped and some of the crew struggled with sea sickness. And there was little or no fresh water for washing up.
Crews went out with the fishermen for up to five days at time between April and September. “These are proud fishermen who are eager to have their stories portrayed,” says Paperny.
Canadian stories told in other series
Other series by Paperny also portray quintessential Canadian stories. Yukon Gold goes into the mines in Canada’s northern territory of Yukon to follow the men who “struggle to hit the motherlode and get rich.” It can be seen around the world on National Geographic International.
Timber Kings is a series that follows a family business in the western province of British Columbia called Pioneer Log Homes where log homes are built, then dismantled and put back together for customers in places like Moscow, Beijing and the mountains of Italy. Paperny says those shows will be sold over the next few months and available to viewers around the world.
Cold Water Cowboys is on this week on Canadian tv’s Discovery channel.