Ai­den Pen­ton’s story

Fogo Is­land fish­er­man has taken big risks to build his busi­ness


Ai­den Pen­ton did not need writ­ten notes when he ad­dressed the LIFO panel at Gan­der two weeks ago.

The Fogo Is­land fish­er­man sim­ply told his life story.

“My fa­ther was a fish­er­man, my grand­fa­ther was a fish­er­man and my great-grand­fa­ther …” he told pan­el­lists Paul Sprout, Wayne Fol­lett, Trevor Tay­lor and Bar­bara Crann. His fam­ily has been mak­ing a liv­ing from the sea for so long that “I don’t know how far I can go back,” he said.

But he knows one sim­ple truth: he was born a fish­er­man, and car­ries on a fam­ily legacy that be­gan sev­eral gen­er­a­tions be­fore.

He went ‘ aboard the boat’ when he could only crawl and he’s made a liv­ing from fish­ing for al­most 50 years.

He’s seen some pretty hard years. He’s seen fish­eries fail. “I ac­tu­ally had a new boat built just two years be­fore the cod mora­to­rium,” he said.

He’s turned with the tides, main­tain­ing the fam­ily fish­ing tra­di­tion by turn­ing to shell­fish — crab and shrimp.

He took a big risk to make that switch.

When the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) poli­cies were changed to al­low fish­ers to hold more than one li­cence, Pen­ton put his fi­nan­cial life on the line with the banks.

“We spent about $2.5 mil­lion to get three li­cences. And in 2002 we in­vested in a new boat.”

He risked the fam­ily house — tak­ing out a mort­gage on the roof over their heads — to main­tain and ex­pand the fam­ily fish­ing en­ter­prise.

He hopes he’s built some­thing up that can en­able the next gen­er­a­tion of Pen­tons — his son — to make a liv­ing from the sea.

“I’ve scraped and I’ve strug­gled to get to where I am to­day, and I got some­thing to pass over to my son.”

How­ever, there is now un­cer­tainty, and the worry nags at him dur­ing the day­time and trou­bles his sleep.

The thing that makes him fear­ful, is that if Ot­tawa does not scrap the “last in-first out” pol­icy on the north­ern shrimp quota, the Pen­ton fam­ily could lose ev­ery­thing he’s worked so hard to build.

In a calm voice, Pen­ton told the LIFO panel that won’t give up with­out a fight.

“I strug­gled to get here and I’m not go­ing to give up eas­ily,” said the burly, grey-haired fish­er­man.

“When times got tough, I just got tougher.”

There’s no other way to be if you’re a fish­er­man, he said.

He told the panel “Canada is a re­ally good coun­try to live in” but the coun­try has also dis­ap­pointed him.

“In the past 40-odd years I think the gov­ern­ment of Canada has been try­ing to just put us out.”

They’ve given us quo­tas, cut quo­tas, made it so in­shore fish­ers have had to buy li­cence and quo­tas; per­pet­u­at­ing a con­stant cy­cle of giv­ing and tak­ing away.

When it comes to north- ern shrimp, he said, the Gov­ern­ment of Canada gave the in­shore fleet li­cences to fish shrimp, and a quota to catch, with peo­ple like him­self to build­ing an en­ter­prise and tak­ing on debt load to do that.

“Since 1997 I’ve had some sta­bil­ity in my en­ter­prise, thanks to shrimp. And I don’t want to get backed into a cor­ner and have it taken away.”

Pen­ton says the shrimp fish­ery has help com­mu­ni­ties like Fogo Is­land sur­vive.

“The young peo­ple are com­ing back (to fish­ing),” he said, adding he hopes the panel’s rec­om­men­da­tion on LIFO will be one that will con­tinue to en­cour­age that.

The LIFO panel wrapped up its se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions last week, with fi­nal meet­ings in Labrador.

Their fi­nal re­port will be de­liv­ered to the DFO by next Wed­nes­day.

The de­part­ment will have a de­ci­sion on LIFO — and on the shar­ing of the north­ern shrimp re­source — by the end of next week.

And Ai­den Pen­ton will know whether or not his story car­ried any weight.

Bar­bara Dean-Sim­mons grew up in a fish­ing com­mu­nity in Trin­ity Bay and has been writ­ing about the fish­ing in­dus­try for over 30 years.

Un­til next week:” Over and out”


Ai­den Pen­ton of Fogo Is­land has spent nearly 50 years in the fish­ing in­dus­try, tak­ing big fi­nan­cial risks since 1997 to gear up for shrimp fish­ing.

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