Fishing admiral’s ailment
Recently I was on the phone with a journalist I know. We were discussing how we felt about each item on the list of impending fiascos stretching out before this province. The list was long, reaching the horizon and curving downward, disappearing from sight, stretching toward infinity.
We were just finishing our discussion of the toxic mixture of uncaring greed, manipulation of the needy, and thoughtless acceptance by the incompetent and the unconcerned that seemed set to permit a single fish merchant to blackmail the entire population of this province.
The bait in the trap was a handful of jobs in a place where precious few exist. If the government, the government that is supposed to represent us, said no to the fish merchant’s pitch, then there would be no jobs. If they said yes, then … SNAP! the trap would close. In return for that handful of jobs, so desperately needed by a single community, the government would permit three quarters of that fish merchant’s share of a particular species to be caught by foreigners and shipped overseas for processing. The sole benefit to this province could only be uncovered by cutting open the fish merchant’s mattress.
If the government said yes, the precedent would be set. Foreigners could harvest and process our fish, not just this species, but all species, again and again.
The government passed the buck to the union.
Naturally, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers were opposed. Their hapless leader, displaying all the energy of a man who looked like he’d just finished running a double marathon, stared at his shoes and expressed great regret about the handful of jobs that the fish merchant would refuse to create if the government did not agree to his plan.
We have to look at the multitude of jobs stretching into the future that will be lost by generations to come, explained the vacant-eyed union leader. He wanted the television audience to know that all citizens of this province were being blackmailed by the offer of short-term gain for eternal pain.
How the poor man knew he was speaking to a television audience I do not know. The camera operator could have left the province for all the union leader knew. He just kept on staring at his shoes. The fish merchant, the government and the people so desperate for the handful of jobs had backed him into a corner. He was beaten.
I was asking my journalist friend about the part that puzzled me: what’s in it for the government? Apart from some jobs in one community in one constituency, the government would be making a massive long-term error if they said yes to ...
“Just a minute, Peter,” she interrupted. “I think I have your answer. An email just came in. A letter to the editor for the newspaper. It is a glowing endorsement of Muskrat Falls. Not just the best thing since, but better than sliced bread.
Guess which fish merchant has signed at the bottom of the letter. Here’s a hint. We were just talking about him.
I got the picture. The government and the fish merchant. As my father used to say, a case of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
Since the day of that phone conversation we have seen a barrage of the same as the government has launched a Save Muskrat Falls at All Cost Programme. And quite a cost it is, too, with a 16 per cent increase, plus or minus, before construction even begins.
This is the latest example of what I have been thinking about for awhile, what I call “The Fishing Admiral Ailment.”
Readers will know about the Fishing Admirals.
In the early days of European presence in this province, it was forbidden to overwinter here. Each Spring would see a race from the ports of England’s West Country for the coast of the island of Newfoundland. The captain of the first vessel to arrive in a given harbour or bay would be proclaimed the Fishing Admiral for that spot. He had the best fishing rooms, the choicest anchorage and the most productive grounds. His prime objective was to catch and make the greatest volume of quality fish possible for the merchant back in the old country who employed him. He was responsible for maintaining peace and good order and, though not likely versed in the law, was the sole arbiter of justice.
The existence of this totally undemocratically chosen and allpowerful leadership has marked Newfoundland and Labrador since the arrival of the first Europeans on these shores.
How? Let’s take politicians. To start with, they like a race. Not necessarily across the Atlantic in ocean-going vessels, they call their race an election. Once chosen, they can do what they like for the duration of their mandate. In the case of Fishing Admiral, until the autumn when he sails home. In the case of the politician, until the next election when he or she can join the race again. Not a situation that encourages long-term planning or respect for those you are appointed to lead.
Let’s take fish merchants. Their motivation like the fishing admiral is to amass the greatest wealth in the short time available, no matter what the cost. The employees and the fish stocks are just two kinds of fuel to be used up in order to maximize the profit. These principles apply equally to other resource gathering enterprises. They, too, are afflicted by the Fishing Admiral’s Ailment.
The third group is by far the largest. It includes everybody not named above. The effect of Fishing Admiral’s Ailment on the rest of us is still all-pervasive today. In ancient times we learned to obey the autocratic commands and accept the unjust treatment of the Fishing Admirals because, in an isolated cove thousand of kilometres from home, there was no other choice. We are doing it still.
Maybe it’s time for us all to wake up, and start looking for an antidote.
Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer in Salvage, Bonavista Bay. He can be reached by email at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dawson family of Bay Roberts were among those who dressed up and took to the streets Oct. 31 for some Halloween trick or treating. They were photographed on Cross Road early in the afternoon. They are, from left, mom Wanda (Dora the Explorer), two-year-old Cian (Spider-Man), dad Mark (Diego) and four-year-old Ciara.