North­ern cod mora­to­rium 25 years old

Stock fi­nally show­ing signs of pos­i­tive growth that may lead to lift­ing of mora­to­rium in com­ing years

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Front Page - BY GLEN WHIFFEN

A New­found­land and Labrador with­out a strong cod fishery spread along its coasts was once un­think­able.

But in what seems like the blink of an eye, the prov­ince has been with­out a sig­nif­i­cant cod fishery now for 25 years.

Sun­day, July 2, marks a quar­ter of a cen­tury since then fed­eral fish­eries min­ster John Cros­bie an­nounced what was planned to be a two-year mora­to­rium on the north­ern cod fishery.

It con­tin­ues on to­day, though it has of­ten seemed lost in the wake of a lu­cra­tive crab and shrimp fishery that re­mark­ably saved the in­dus­try and many com­mu­ni­ties.

But back in 1992, a prov­ince set­tled and built on the back of the mighty cod fishery — a re­new­able re­source if prop­erly taken care of — was knocked off course with the swipe of a pen.

Some fish­er­men tried to knock down the doors to the ho­tel con­fer­ence room in St. John’s where the an­nounce­ment was made that July 2, 1992. Other fish­er­men who were forced to lay down their cod traps and nets, wanted to burn their boats.

About 40,000 people were put out of work in New­found­land and Labrador and the other At­lantic prov­inces com­bined.

The frus­tra­tion echoed through the towns, out­ports and coves. Fish­er­men had been saying for years that the cod stocks had been de­creas­ing, yet no one seemed to lis­ten and noth­ing dras­tic was be­ing done about it un­til it was too late.

Bay de Verde fish­er­man Tony Doyle, who is also vice-pres­i­dent of the FFAW-Uni­for in­shore fish­er­man’s council, re­mem­bers those days well. He said the mora­to­rium was dev­as­tat­ing for fish­er­man and plant work­ers alike, and for ev­ery­one — par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador.

He said it took awhile for the dust to set­tle to see how the fishery was go­ing to be able to sur­vive.

“It took us two or three years to start to ad­just. A lot of people left the fishery,” Doyle said. “I was in my 30s then and I wanted to keep fish­ing. So, me and others like me, we all plugged away at it and pushed into the crab fishery and shell­fish, and over the last 20 years there were ups and downs but it was a good liv­ing.”

Fol­low­ing Cros­bie’s an­nounce­ment, emer­gency as­sis­tance pay­ments were made to ac­tive in­shore fish­er­men, dis­placed fish plant work­ers and the crews of off­shore fish­ing trawlers.

In­come sup­port pro­grams fol­lowed — the North­ern Cod Ad­just­ment and Re­cov­ery Pro­gram (NCARP) and The At­lantic Ground­fish Strat­egy (TAGS) — which in­cluded ev­ery­thing from op­tions for early re­tire­ment from the fishery, fish­ing li­cence re­tire­ment, new skills train­ing away from the fishery, pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fishery, and money for new busi­ness ideas.

The loss of that once-great fishery has been mourned, de­bated, had bouts of an­gry fin­ger-point­ing, and stud­ied in more ways than you can shake a jig­ger at.

Shell­fish, though al­low­ing many to make good money — in a lot of cases more than they ever did at the cod fishery — was not as labour in­ten­sive as cod and thus there was min­i­mum work for the plants.

In the last cou­ple of years, a bit of shell shock has come into that fishery. The crab and shrimp stocks are de­clin­ing caus­ing a lot of worry about the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

In turn, the north­ern cod stock seems to have fi­nally taken hold again in its tra­di­tional off­shore spawn­ing ar­eas and has started to grow — yet it is still far from be­ing able to sup­port any kind of ma­jor com­mer­cial fishery as seen in pre­mora­to­rium years.

Though there’s been some con­tin­ued cod fish­ing — such as the sen­tinel test fishery — small quo­tas for some in­shore fish­er­man and re-open­ing of the cod fishery on the south and west coasts — there’s been some­what of a gap in main­tain­ing cod fish­ing skills.

Many young fish­er­man had moved on to other in­dus­tries — such as the off­shore oil and sup­ply in­dus­tries — and few have main­tained their fam­ily fish­ing tra­di­tions.

In Doyle’s fam­ily, how­ever, the fish­ing tra­di­tion is alive and well.

His son Tom started fish­ing with him two years be­fore the mora­to­rium at age nine and con­tin­ues in the fishery to­day. Back when Tom was still in high school, he’d get up in the morn­ing and go lob­ster fish­ing with his dad and be dropped off back at the wharf in time to go to school.

“He started off fish­ing with me around the same age as I was when I started fish­ing with Dad,” Doyle said. “He’d get up in the morn­ing … I’d have 100 lob­ster pots out and we’d pull 50 and look at the watch and — some­times, if the weather was good, I’d drop him off at the point below the house and he had to half climb up the cliff to get to the house. My wife Marie would be up and she’d have ev­ery­thing ready for him. He come in take a shower grab the book­bag and head to school.

“I use to say Tom b’y, that’s too much for you. And he’d say, ‘no, I wants to go out again to­mor­row morn­ing’.”

Doyle said he’s not wor­ried about any loss of cod fish­ing skills should a com­mer­cial cod fishery re-open, be­cause there’s still a lot of ex­pe­ri­enced cod fish­er­man around. What the con­cern is, he said, he en­sur­ing fish­er­man land qual­ity cod for the modern mar­ket, and to not make the same mis­takes of the past.

“We are in the mode now where we are go­ing back­wards again, from shell­fish to cod, and there’s a tran­si­tion we have to go through and we haven’t got to learn how to catch fish, but we got to learn how to catch it in a dif­fer­ent way, to make sure we land the top qual­ity fish,” he said. “And the people who came into the fishery since cod mora­to­rium, they are go­ing to get a rude awak­en­ing in a sense be­cause you are not go­ing to get the same dol­lars, the same value for cod fish as for shell­fish.

“Years ago, we caught thou­sands of pounds of cod for 25 cents a pound. I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to catch a quar­ter of a mil­lion pounds of fish for 20 cents a pound, I want to catch 50,000 or 60,000 pounds for a $1.50 a pound. That’s where I’m to, less fish and bet­ter qual­ity for more money. And the in­dus­try is in the process of try­ing to do that.”

We have more cov­er­age mark­ing the 25th an­niver­sary of the cod mora­to­rium, pages 6-9.

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