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Donna Collins

Donna is the Daughter, Niece, and Sister of fisherman and the youngest (age 16) female fish cutter in New Bedford. Her father emigrated from Norway. He was a deckhand and cook on the F/V Pauline H.

I was the youngest fish cutter, female, the youngest female fish cutter. There was a guy, I think he had been around my age, but he had been doing it just a little bit longer than myself. So I could have been the youngest fish cutter overall, but he just beat me by a few months.

Well, I was a young girl, 16. I had no skills, no education. I was a hard worker and I got a job in the fish houses. I just begged them.  I started out trimming the fish at first and then I begged the owner of Acushnet Fish to teach me how to cut fish. He did and that’s how it started.

I was a kid and just trying to make money, what else could I do with no skills and no education. I took whatever I could get, basically, But, in the end, you don’t want to do that for the rest of your life either. It’s not steady work. You don’t go in and say I’m gonna make 40 hours this week. You never know what you’re gonna make. Because it depends on what the owners purchase.

Well, it was a messy job. You come home, you have fish scales all over your arms, you’d have to scrub them off. It smelled really bad and you were wet from the brine and all of that. So it was very smelly. But when you’re in there, you don’t smell it like that. Like other people would smell it if you’d leave there. Your clothes stink and it’s really offensive, but you know, kind of you get used to it while you’re in it. You just block out the smell.

My father was a deckhand. But he was a cook. They used to love him because he could also mend nets. My father was an excellent cook. And he did all the Norwegian dishes. Oh, when he comes in from fishing, I’d always go up to see him, and he’d say, what you want to eat? Because he had a thick accent, you know? I’d put in my meal request for supper that night. I’d always have a request for something Norwegian. My father was an excellent cook, and I never paid attention. I wish I had.

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