What’s Inside the Carry‑On Bag of a Spearfisherwoman

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Valentine Thomas on her double life and that time she landed a 450‑pound marlin.

Quebecer Valentine Thomas was leading a successful career in finance in London before she took the plunge and became a full‑time spearfisherwoman. Today, she leads the charge for sustainable fishing primarily via her Instagram account (@valentinethomas) and travels the seven seas to document her methods, raise awareness and find her next meal. Valentine Thomas’ book, À contre‑courant, is available in bookstores and online. An English‑language edition is on the way.

July 1, 2019

enRoute When did you decide to quit your job in finance in London and start spearfishing full‑time?

Valentine Thomas In 2016, I was in South Africa, where a French television network was shooting a documentary on the double life I was leading, between working in London and going on fishing expeditions. Even though I was earning practically no money fishing, I discovered that it was possible to do the kind of work that would give me a thrill every day.

ER What skills do you need to be a good underwater huntress?

VT Hunting underwater is almost 80‑percent mental management, particularly in terms of learning how to be comfortable without air. As for handling the speargun, that just comes with practice. I’ve seen 80‑year‑olds do it!

ER How has your life underwater changed your life on land?

VT It’s given me a much greater respect for the environment. As human beings, we often feel that we’re masters of the world. It’s just not true – we really are part of nature.

ER You practise sustainable fishing, and you also advocate for it. Tell us about your activist work.

VT Through my fishing photos and videos, I try to make people realize where their food comes from and re‑create a connection that we lost long ago. I’ve also started a petition in Canada that would require Canadian merchants to indicate the origin and fishing method of the fish and seafood they sell.

ER What’s the most profound experience you’ve had during your travels?

VT In Cape Verde, I took part in the film Agua Negra, a documentary on the culture of underwater hunting. We were put into extremely precarious situations: We had no money, and we slept on the ground. I realized that we can adapt to virtually any living conditions, and I also discovered an incredible community spirit. The people around us had nothing, but they shared everything.

ER What are your favourite places to fish?

VT I love Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico coast, and the area around Tampa Bay, where the swell is pretty heavy and there are a few too many sharks, but the water is full of fish.

ER Do you ever take time when you’re in the water to just enjoy having a swim?

VT It depends. The beauty of the ocean is that every dive is different. When I’m surrounded by fish, sometimes thousands of them, I hang around longer. If I haven’t seen anything for half an hour, then I get out of the water.

The Questionnaire

  • Deepest dive 50 metres.

  • Favourite fish Hogfish and lion fish.

  • Biggest catch A 450‑pound marlin. “I was able to share the meat with the entire village we were staying in, near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.”

  • Preferred cooking method In a skillet or whole, over a campfire.

What’s in Valentine’s bag?

The front cover of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  • Book — I pack two books – a work of fiction and one that teaches me something. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is required reading: Understanding our origins gives us a clearer picture of our future.

A black dive watch
  • Dive watch — This wrist computer calculates everything: my depth, dive time, amount of rest needed between dives (twice the length of the previous dive) and even hours of sleep.

A pair of diving fins
  • Fins — These ones are long and light, so that all effort is concentrated in the fin kick and I can conserve my energy. They’re made of carbon and are too fragile – and too long – for my checked luggage.

Two mini barbecue grills
  • Mini‑barbecue — I love camping, and it was this idea of eating simply, in the outdoors, that made me fall in love with fishing. When we catch big fish, we set up on the beach and make half into ceviche and grill the other half.

A bag of vacuum-packed frozen fish
  • Frozen fish — I always try to bring fish home for my parents so they can discover new varieties. They really liked grouper (pictured), which I catch off Florida’s coast.