The ‘full cir­cle’ fish­ery

The Compass - - SPORTS -

When I came to the is­land of New­found­land in the mid-50s, the cod fish­ery con­sisted of fish­ing fam­i­lies with their own hands car­ry­ing out ev­ery step of the pro­ce­dure. It had been much the same since Eu­ro­peans first came here 400 years ear­lier. It was like this. Bring­ing the fish out of the sea and into a boat, built with your own hands, land­ing them at your own wharf, built with your own hands, split­ting and salt­ing the fish, sundry­ing them on flakes built with your own hands, turn­ing them over, by hand, many times daily against sun­burn, and cov­er­ing them against the rain.

Hands- on con­trol was the method at ev­ery step of the pro­ce­dure, al­ways striv­ing for the top qual­ity cat­e­gory of salt fish when they were car­ried to St. John’s in the fall, aboard schooners made with your own hands. There, af­ter of­fload­ing by hand at the mer­chant’s wharf your fish were ex­am­ined by in­spec­tors paid by the mer­chant. Then the price was pro­nounced. If you didn’t like it you could re-load your catch by hand and try else­where, al­though there was the mat­ter of the out­stand­ing debt with the mer­chant for the sup­plies bought on credit in the pre­vi­ous spring to be con­sid­ered.

Though ut­terly un­fair, this fi­nal step was the only one in the year which fish­er­folk did not con­trol with their own hands. It was the way of life for out­port peo­ple, who knew each morn­ing when they awoke that they had work, more than enough work, to fill the com­ing day.

It was a harsh and bone-weary­ing year of end­less toil, but you lived in your own house, built with your own hands, ate food from the sea and your gar­den, caught, dug and planted with your own hands. At Christ­mas you danced with friends to mu­sic made with your own hands and in­dulged in a wee swally of burn­ing hot liq­uid made with your own hands.

The salt fish­ery died when re­frig­er­a­tion came. Then fish­er­men landed their catch at a com­mu­nity stage. Mak­ing salt fish was no longer nec­es­sary. It had been taken out of their own hands. The end of that ar­du­ous chore was uni­ver­sally ap­plauded.

Who knew then where this sin­gle change was lead­ing?

It was the be­gin­ning of the process which steadily took ev­er­larger chunks of work out of more and more hands un­til the plant closed, as it did re­cently in our vil­lage, and the work­ers were left to find em­ploy­ment else­where in one of the ever-de­creas­ing num­ber of fish plants.

Boats must still land fish, but at the Sal­vage wharf will there be any staff to help un­load and trans­fer the catch to the trac­tor trailer which will carry it to the cen­tral plant? If your in­shore boat hasn’t got enough ca­pac­ity to merit send­ing a trac­tor trailer to pick up your catch, will there be one wait­ing when you come into port?

The small boats are be­ing pushed out and the long­lin­ers have all but taken over.

In­creas­ingly, the debt fish­er­men have in­curred to buy th­ese costly ves­sels is held by the mer­chant. When the pace of a slowly re­bound­ing fish­ery is too slow, the day will come when the mer­chants have taken back all the ves­sels for non­pay­ment and the fish­er­men who man those ves­sels will be wageearn­ers.

Even that will not be enough for the f i sh mer­chants. Fur ther economies will be made. It is al­ready hap­pen­ing. Large trawlers who freeze catches at sea and carry them di­rect to China for pro­cess­ing are al­ready per­mit­ted to do so by a re­cent de­ci­sion of the govern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador.

The wage de­mands of the New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans will soon seem too high. Th­ese ves­sels will then be manned by low wage peo­ple from away and the process will be com­plete.

Then the peo­ple of Sal­vage, all half dozen of them re­main­ing, will be able to sit on the head­land at Net Point and watch through binoc­u­lars as a sin­gle freezer trawler, hav­ing in the space of a morn­ing and af­ter­noon scoured out what fish re­main in Bon­av­ista Bay, turns its bow to­ward China and car­ries away its catch, never hav­ing once touched the shore­line of this is­land.

A supreme irony brings this story full cir­cle. This past year the most ex­pen­sive form of cod­fish avail­able in Euro­pean fish­mar­kets was salted and sun-dried. Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer liv­ing in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. His col­umn re­turns in two weeks. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing:


Sub­mit­ted photo

MONEY BALL – The St. Fran­cis Cru­saders girls’ bas­ket­ball team de­feated the Per­salvic Pan­thers in the fi­nal of the Con­cep­tion Bay North re­gional com­pe­ti­tion hosted by Per­salvic El­e­men­tary in Vic­to­ria on March 21. The Cru­saders went un­de­feated in the tour­na­ment and are in the midst of gear­ing up to host the provin­cial cham­pi­onships at St. Fran­cis in Har­bour Grace on April 1214. Mem­bers of the team are: front (l-r) – Jenelle Gil­lis, man­ager Mor­gan Clarke, Emily Kennedy, Mal­lory Gille­spie and Meghan Lehr; back – coach Ed Jarvis, Stephanie Slade, Cai­ley Snow, Rebecca Jack­man, Na­jaula Sparkes, Michaela Case, Devon Ni­chol­son, Shelby Oates, Bri­anna Roberts, and coach Ker­ri­lynn Maloney.

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