Salty Girl of the Month: Corey Wheeler Forrest, Rhode Island Fisherman

 

Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?  

salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.

This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.

 

meet Corey wheeler Forrest, a Rhode Island fisherman.

Our Salty Girl for the month, Corey Wheeler Forrest, holds a particularly special place in my heart -- she and I were born and raised in the same small town in New England -- Little Compton, RI. I remember seeing Corey and her family working their trap site from the deck of my own family’s boats as we headed out for the day, or mending their gear in their big grassy field on the way to check the surf.  As a third generation fisherman, Corey’s connection to the sea is in her blood; a tradition she began passing on to her two kids from the time they were babies. Her family’s unique style of fishing has been around for ages but their sites are some of the few still operating this incredibly passive and sustainable way of catching fish. Even though Corey must balance a lot of roles every day (fisherman, mother, daughter, wife, business owner), the grounding and sense of self that she derives from the sea and this way of life is unmistakable. We hope you are as inspired by Corey’s story as much as we are, and be sure to check out her beautiful and entertaining Instagram account @fishandforrest.

Tell us a little about yourself and your business.

I'm a married, mother of two, third generation commercial trap fisherman. I fish and handle/sell all the fish for my family's two floating fish trap companies and my brother's day-boat. "Trapping" is a unique fishery to Rhode Island, only a few of us still fish this way and it's been around for hundreds of years. It's a really cool, sustainable and passive fishery.  We are licensed to set in the same spots every year off the coast of Little Compton and Newport.  If the fish come to us we catch them, if they don't, we don't. The floating fish traps are like a giant Aquarium, held in place by 26 500-900 lb 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 is thrown right back into the water to swim away. It's really labor and equipment intensive, which is probably why not too many people still do this. As my dad says, "if it were easy, everyone would do it."

Who first got you hooked on the sea?

My family. I think it's just embedded in me. Growing up there were fishy work clothes hanging in the hall, a beat up pick-up truck in the driveway, fishing gear in the back yard. We didn't have a swing set, we made forts out of lobster pots. Our conversations always revolved around working the sea, and it still does.

What does a "normal" day in your life look like?  

I'm up by 4am. Coffee, sunscreen, organize myself. I check my emails and texts. It's pretty normal to already have texts from my buyers at the Fulton Fish Market. I'm at the dock around 5:30 am. We leave the dock at 6am, haul 1 to 3 traps (some years we've set more traps), we're usually back at the dock 9-11am where we sort, ice, box and ship fish. My brother hops on his 42 foot gillnetter as soon as we get in and hauls his sets. So I handle all his fish as well. I sell to wholesale markets from Toronto to South Carolina. The Fulton Fish Market gets the fish that night and I've heard stories about my fish still being alive in the box. I'm usually home by 4pm but I also have state required fish reports that I do at home. It's all-consuming mentally and physically and it's definitely hard to find balance at home this time of year. It's gotten easier as the kids, Finn 14 and Isley 10, have gotten older, and more independent; it's a team effort with my husband for sure (he's not in the fishing industry). When they were young I brought them to work with me. While they were babies and nursing, I took a few years off from being on the boat and just handled the dockside of things. I had every baby carrier they made! I look back and I don't know how I did it.  

 
"While they were babies and nursing, I took a few years off from being on the boat and just handled the dockside of things. I had every baby carrier they made! I look back and I don't know how I did it. " - Corey Forrest

"While they were babies and nursing, I took a few years off from being on the boat and just handled the dockside of things. I had every baby carrier they made! I look back and I don't know how I did it. " - Corey Forrest

 

What has been the greatest lesson you've learned from the ocean and what lessons do you want your daughter to learn from the ocean?

We are all EQUAL on the ocean and the ocean does not discriminate...

The ocean can be welcoming and serene, unpredictable and exploding, poetic and playful, and also break and crush you. (James Joyce called the sea "scrotumtightening")! The ocean doesn't give a SHIT about your gender,  how tough you think you are, where you come from, your college degree, family name, socioeconomic class, what God you worship, where you shop or the kind of car you drive. The ocean is a powerful teacher when you realize you are not in control; you get to know yourself pretty well - mind, body, heart, and soul when you are  simply existing, adapting, and keeping afloat.

 I nearly got crushed falling overboard between two boats on a big seas day... it happened about 20 years ago; it plays slow motion in my mind though it was probably seconds before I was hauled back onboard by a dozen hands. Our Captain at the time (who undoubtedly had doubts about a woman being onboard), legendary trap fisherman and the famous "kissing sailor",  George Mendonsa, said to me, "did your boots fill up with water?...[yes]  NOW you're a real fisherman."

 
 

Who has been an inspiration to you in your life and why?

Definitely my dad. He just turned 70, looks 40 and acts 14. His enthusiasm and passion for everything is contagious and borderline manic. And I definitely couldn't do what I do without him. He pushes me, makes me laugh, infuriates me and often has more confidence in me than I do in myself.  

 
"[My dad] pushes me, makes me laugh, infuriates me and often has more confidence in me than I do in myself." - Corey Forrest 

"[My dad] pushes me, makes me laugh, infuriates me and often has more confidence in me than I do in myself." - Corey Forrest 

 

When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time on the water, what do you see? 

Weirdly, my favorite time on the water is probably when I've been the most scared: falling overboard or a squall with hurricane force winds, bolts of lightning. Being enveloped and feeling absolutely helpless and insignificant in all her strength and beauty is really humbling and puts things into perspective.  

What does being a Salty Girl mean to you?  

Feeling the pull of the sea and never being able to stay away, like being homesick.

 
 

Favorite sea quote?  

It's very hard to choose but : "Fish," he said softly, aloud, "I'll stay with you until I am dead." Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.

Is there a Salty Girl in your life? Email us to share her story with us and nominate her as a monthly Salty Girl!