The day the fish­ery died

On July 2, 1992, New­found­land and Labrador changed for­ever

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEVE BARTLETT, ASH­LEY FITZPA­TRICK AND BARB SWEET TC ME­DIA Edi­tor’s note: the fol­low­ing was first pub­lished in the June 28, 2012 edi­tion of The Telegram

A dory drifts down the calm har­bour to­wards Bay Bulls. It’s a sunkissed June morn­ing and the man grip­ping the tiller is sil­hou­et­ted against the blind­ing bright­ness of the wa­ter.

The striking sight now.

July 2 marked 20 years since the mora­to­rium on the north­ern cod fish­ery was im­ple­mented, an an­nounce­ment that ended a 495year-old way of life and for­ever

is

nos­tal­gic changed places like Bay Bulls and Twill­ingate, where Lloyd Watkins was fishing with his son.

“It was heart-wrench­ing. There’s no ques­tion about that,” he says. “I said, ‘My son, it’s all over. You’ve got to move on.’”

Mov­ing on was some­thing the mora­to­rium forced tens of thou­sands to do. But how did we get to that point? Here’s a brief re­fresher. In the fi­nal years of the 15th cen­tury, Ital­ian ex­plorer John Cabot re­ported that the cod­fish in the Grand Banks were so thick a per­son could walk across the wa­ter on their backs.

And so be­gan New­found­land and Labrador’s sto­ried fish­ery, a har­vest so valu­able, it spurred coun­tries to war.

By 1992, five cen­turies of fishing — and par­tic­u­larly tech­no­log­i­cally en­hanced har­vest­ing and over­fish­ing in the lat­ter 20th cen­tury — had de­stroyed the cod stocks.

With the spawn­ing biomass a frac­tion of what it had been 30 years ear­lier, Ot­tawa closed the north­ern cod fish­ery.

Then fed­eral fish­eries min­is­ter John Cros­bie an­nounced the mora­to­rium and put 30,000 peo­ple out of work on July 2, 1992.

“This is one of the most difficult po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions that a gov­ern­ment ever had to an­nounce in Canada and, un­for­tu­nately, I was in the mid­dle of it,” says Cros­bie, now New­found­land and Labrador’s lieu­tenant-gover­nor.

He con­sid­ers the two years lead­ing up to the mora­to­rium as the most difficult of his lengthy po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

The day of the an­nounce­ment was trau­matic.

The pres­sure was heavy, and Cros­bie says, “nothing can be tougher than hav­ing to tell peo­ple they are go­ing to lose their liveli­hoods, or that they may be out of work for years.”

Then there was the re­ac­tion from har­vesters and plant work­ers who had gath­ered at the Radis­son for the an­nounce­ment.

Cros­bie says his PR staff had de­cided, without con­sult­ing him, that spec­ta­tors wouldn’t be al­lowed at the news con­fer­ence.

In­stead, they had to lis­ten to their fate from a neigh­bour­ing room.

“Nat­u­rally they were mad as hell and they started as­sault­ing the doors,” Cros­bie said.

“Luck­ily for me ... the doors of the ho­tel down there were mag­nif­i­cently tough, and they couldn’t break in. You could hear tremen­dous crash­ing and bang­ing.”

Once the an­nounce­ment was made, po­lice de­cided Cros­bie was in dan­ger and es­corted him out of the ho­tel.

Ryan Cleary, now MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, was The Telegram’s fish­eries re­porter at the time.

He sat in the front row as Cros­bie closed the fish­ery and the an­gry crowd tried to beat the doors down. He’ll never for­get it.

“On top of the ten­sion from the Cros­bie an­nounce­ment, or the big­gest lay­off in Cana­dian his­tory, on top of the mag­ni­tude of that, then you had the added ten­sion of peo­ple try­ing to get into the room.”

Cleary’s story the next day was head­lined, “No fishing.”

But it was not the ar­ti­cle on the mora­to­rium that has stuck with him the most.

In­stead, it was one he wrote a few days later when he tagged along with a man from Lower Lance Cove, on Ran­dom Is­land, who was haul­ing in his cod traps. (Cros­bie had given seven days to do so).

Cleary re­mem­bers that story’s open­ing sen­tence: “Wispy fog teased the glass calm wa­ters of Res­o­lu­tion Bite the morn­ing a part of in­shore fish­er­man Jack Marsh died.”

Cros­bie’s orig­i­nal an­nounce­ment was a two-year mora­to­rium on the north­ern cod fish­ery. It in­cluded an emer­gency as­sis­tance pack­age of $225 a week for those af­fected.

The com­pen­sa­tion is what set the fish­er­man off, and Cros­bie knew it was in­ad­e­quate.

He says he had tried to con­vince the fed­eral cabi­net to ap­prove a bet­ter pack­age, but it was difficult be­cause the Mul­roney gov­ern­ment was try­ing to cut spend­ing.

How­ever, he found that at­ti­tudes in Ot­tawa changed af­ter his col­leagues saw the an­gry re­ac­tion to the mora­to­rium on TV.

The fish­er­men and plant work­ers’ be­hav­iour at the ho­tel that day helped.

“(Cabi­net) re­al­ized if they wanted to as­sist me in sur­viv­ing this fan­tas­tic cri­sis, they had to im­prove the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age, which

“We prob­a­bly lost 80,000 or 90,000 peo­ple and we’re con­tin­u­ing to lose them. What still pisses me off to this day is the fact that, 20

“We prob­a­bly lost 80,000 or 90,000 peo­ple and we’re con­tin­u­ing to lose them. What still pisses me off to this day is the fact that, 20 years later, there’s been no re­cov­ery, there’s been no re­cov­ery plan, there are no re­cov­ery tar­gets.”

— Ryan Cleary, NDP MP and for­mer fish­eries re­porter

they agreed to do.”

Two weeks later, the feds un­veiled the North­ern Cod Ad­just­ment and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Pro­gram, or NCARP, which would come to be known as “the pack­age.”

An­other, The At­lantic Ground­fish Ad­just­ment Strat­egy (TAGS) fol­lowed in 1994.

The pro­grams cost Ot­tawa over $3 bil­lion, and their suc­cess was con­sid­ered lim­ited.

Some peo­ple re­trained

and found new pro­fes­sions. Oth­ers started fishing species like shrimp and crab. Many left out­port com­mu­ni­ties for the main­land or ur­ban parts of New­found­land.

Cleary says the de­pop­u­la­tion of ru­ral New­found­land was pre­dicted im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the mora­to­rium. years later, there’s been no re­cov­ery, there’s been no re­cov­ery plan, there are no re­cov­ery tar­gets.”

As for what happened to Lloyd Watkins’ son in Twill­ingate af­ter the cod clo­sure, “he went to On­tario and then he went to Grand Prairie and that’s where he’s still at now.”

Watkins, him­self, went at the shrimp in Labrador, fol­lowed by var­i­ous other jobs — an Esso garage, paint­ing and plas­ter­ing.

“I did that for a num­ber of years ... un­til we got over the blow of what it was all about. And it was a tremen­dous blow for all of us,” he said.

“When that happened, our young peo­ple had to leave this town and go out West, go out to Toronto and them places, and it’d been re­ally a hard, re­ally a hard, hard sit­u­a­tion at the time.” sbartlett@thetele­gram.com bsweet@thetele­gram.com afitz­patrick@thetele­gram.com

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