When Frayed Knot brings lobster into port in Inverness, Cape Breton, people who don’t know the crew may approach one of the two men on board to ask if they can buy lobster. The crew member will point to the lone woman on board and say, “She’s the captain.”
Sabrina Carpenter, captain of Frayed Knot, has been fishing since she was in high school. “Every Saturday, I fished with my father,” she says. “Fish has always been part of our life.” She continued fishing with him while she earned a nursing degree. Her older sister and younger brother also fish, and when their dad retires, a younger sister will take over from him.
In 2017, after several years nursing out west, Sabrina was back in Cape Breton on maternity leave. Amanda, her older sister, was expecting a baby of her own around lobster season and asked Sabrina to run her gear for her that year.
“It was my first time running a boat, and I really enjoyed it,” Sabrina says. “It got me interested in finding a licence.”
Sabrina fished with Amanda the following year, and in 2019 she used a bank loan to buy a licence. But the interest rates were high, and making the payments was sometimes hard. Then she approached the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board.
“The Loan Board took over the loan,” she says. “They extended the repayment period, and the interest rates were much better. At the end of the year, there was money left in my account, and I could actually make a living from fishing, not just make enough to pay the loan. They were great to deal with, and taking over the loan made a big difference.”
Sabrina and Amanda fish in the same area. “It’s really nice – we work well together,” Sabrina says. “We’re on the phone multiple times a day, talking to each other about the area and fishing.” Their brother also fishes in Inverness but in a different fishing zone.
What is life like for a woman in the fishing industry?
“I find the fishermen in Inverness supportive and helpful,” Sabrina says. “Growing up in it and everyone knowing me made it easier. But people who don’t know the industry, they’re shocked when you say you’re a female captain. They say, ‘Oh, you drive the boat?’ They don’t realize that driving the boat is the easy part.”
She and her husband, J.D. Carpenter, have two young daughters. J.D. fishes with her father, and during the fall and winter, when she’s not fishing, Sabrina nurses on call in the ER and oncology departments in Inverness.
Sabrina is proud knowing she’s making a positive impact on the Nova Scotia economy, but being a good employer is even more important to her. “The two guys I have working are great,” she says. “I like to be able to help them as much as I can and ensure they’re happy with their employment. My relationship with them is probably what I’m most proud of.”