In my early twenties, I worked at a fish factory for a couple of years. A crew of around 50 workers would process ~300 tonnes of herring or mackerel from the boats each day.

The job list rotation 📝

Most of the work was brutally boring, packing 20kg boxes of fish on a conveyor belt, in repetitive tasks that hadn’t been automated yet. The best job was driving a fork lift truck, this was fun and pretty comfortable compared to all the other spots. The drivers had to be really good, because if they moved racks and pallets too slowly — the entire production would halt. I paid for the course to get the license myself, and practiced in my spare time. I succeeded at last, and would more and more often get days with assignment away from the conveyor belt — as one of the drivers.

The fillet machine 🐟

Another spot that was also critical to the overall production tempo in the factory, was the filleting. This was the absolute worst job of them all. The fillet machine operators had to make sure every individual fish was placed head down and belly to the right, flipping them one by one. You couldn’t take breaks outside the designated pauses. The area was noisy, cold and incredibly wet from water constantly flushing the system. You’d get sprayed with fish blood from the machine, and the operators would frequently contract a variety of chronic wrist pains. Operating the fillet machines required experience. You had to pick up proper technique to be fast enough, and it took time to learn know how to fix the machine every time bits of fish got stuck.

Careful what you conquer 😣

I knew that it was risky to become an experienced fillet machine operator. The manager had the glorious idea that women were especially talented at flipping fish — so it was a small group of workers rotating these unpopular spots. After dodging the job for almost two seasons, I ended up learning in solidarity with the other women who kept getting stuck there. After that, checking the work list every morning was always with great suspense; will I be flipping fish or driving today?

Working at the fish factory taught me to be careful what I learn. And that if I am good at something I don’t want to be doing — never tell people!