What is old is new again

The Compass - - OPINION - Peter Pick­ers­gill pic@xplor­net.com — Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: pick­ers­gill@mac.com.

Re­cently I read some­thing in­ter­est­ing in the weekend edi­tion of a daily news­pa­per. It was an ar­ti­cle reprinted from an around the bay weekly.

It de­scribed a way of har­vest­ing cod that two fish­er­men in our vil­lage were prac­tic­ing over a decade ago, but gave up when they couldn’t make a go of it. The news­pa­per ar­ti­cle was no­table be­cause the people fea­tured in it had man­aged to over­come the trou­bles en­coun­tered by my neigh­bours and so many oth­ers.

De­spite all the catas­tro­phes the fish­ery has en­coun­tered in re­cent years, these folk have found a prof­itable mar­ket for their catch.

The method in the ar­ti­cle was sim­ple and made com­plete sense. The cod­fish are first caught in traps, just the way fish­ers in Sal­vage have for over two life­times.

Cod trap­ping is a method in­vented nearly a century and a half ago. It re­mains to­day the only method for mass-har­vest­ing cod­fish that does them no harm what­ever un­til the mo­ment they are plucked out of the wa­ter and sent to mar­ket.

A large mesh box with a mesh floor is fixed to the bot­tom, and the four cor­ners of the ver­ti­cal walls are drawn abroad to make a large space within. The top of the perime­ter walls is held at the sur­face by floats.

A mesh leader fence is at­tached, nor­mally to the shore in our part of Bon­av­ista Bay. It is placed strate­gi­cally to guide the fish swim­ming along the shore, fun­nelling them to­wards and then into a small open­ing in the trap.

The fish have trou­ble find­ing their way back out, a task made in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult as their num­bers within grow larger.

In pe­ri­ods of bad weather, some­times as much as four or five days, when small boats can’t put to sea to haul nets, the trap fish swim about hap­pily await­ing the ar­rival of good weather and with it the fish­ers.

Dur­ing the same spell of four or five days of bad weather, fish that swim into and are en­snared in the lin­net of a gill­net suf­fo­cate promptly and be­gin to lose qual­ity from the mo­ment they per­ish. By the fifth day they have de­te­ri­o­rated to the point where they are fit for noth­ing but fer­til­izer or to be thrown over­board for crab food.

Mean­while, their com­rades in the cod trap are not just alive, but in per­fect con­di­tion. Maybe a lit­tle hun­gry, so they must be fed.

That’s what my neigh­bours did a decade ago and what the people de­scribed in last week’s news­pa­per ar­ti­cle are do­ing now.

First, the fish need to be gen­tly trans­ferred to pens lo­cated in shel­tered spots with plenty of cur­rent to keep the wa­ter clean. Dur­ing the trans­fer, peak breed­ers among the fish can be iden­ti­fied and re­leased, max­i­miz­ing their on­go­ing ben­e­fit to the species.

Re­view­ing what I wrote a decade ago I am re­minded of the rea­sons that I found this way of fish­ing so ex­cit­ing.

Back then, my neigh­bours caught them­selves, plus bought from their friends, a to­tal of 26,000 pounds of trapped cod. In the three-month pe­riod start­ing in Oc­to­ber they fed 78,000 pounds of feed to those fish, doubling their weight.

The diet was capelin, mack­erel and her­ring, which they them­selves caught or bought from their neigh­bours. By ad­just­ing the per­cent­ages of the dif­fer­ent species in the feed, sub­tle changes can be made in the taste of the cod flesh.

Dur­ing the three-month grow out, as is cus­tom­ary at the end of the sea­son, the price dou­bled.

The re­sult was that the re­turn on the cod my neigh­bours had brought ashore was quadru­pled. Through their own labour and that of oth­ers in their com­mu­nity, four times the money was made pro­duc­ing first class seafood raised on the same food those cod would have eaten in the wild.

These were not doped-up fish chow­ing down on man­u­fac­tured food never in­tended to be eaten by a self-re­spect­ing cod­fish. They were de­li­cious fish of the high­est qual­ity re­turn­ing value to lo­cal work­ers.

Nonethe­less, for a num­ber of rea­sons, most im­por­tant among them dif­fi­culty find­ing cus­tomers seek­ing qual­ity fish for the ta­ble, my neigh­bours gave up on their cod grow-out en­ter­prise.

The abil­ity to find just those qual­ity mar­kets is cer­tainly the rea­son that the fish oper­a­tion fea­tured in last week’s news­pa­pers is suc­ceed­ing. The piece ex­plained that this group, em­ploy­ing 17 people, has a grow­ing list of en­thu­si­as­tic restau­rant cus­tomers, most on the main­land or state­side who cater to a “white table­cloth” mar­ket.

The fish them­selves are as good as they can be. Catch­ing them with old­fash­ioned meth­ods and feed­ing them up on their favourite foods be­fore jet­ting them to the ta­bles of dis­cern­ing din­ers is the key.

What is old is new again.

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