If cod returns, harvest practices should change
A few days ago I listened to Fred Woodman Jr., former owner of an inshore fish plant in New Harbour, being interviewed by Jamie Baker on Fisheries broadcast, talking about cod before the moratorium and cod now and what to do with it.
While I didn’t know Fred Woodman Jr., I certainly knew his father, Fred Woodman Sr., who was owner of an inshore fish plant and was a member of the Newfoundland Inshore Fisheries Association, a group of concerned citizens who were trying to wake up the politicians as to what was happening to the inshore cod fishery.
After the collapse of the cod, Woodman Sr. chaired the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, an organization put in place by the federal government to get input from the people as to what was happening in the fishery and what could be done to bring it back. He was the best of chairman and gave everyone a chance to have their say. I knew first hand having appeared before him many times.
Fred Woodman Jr. talked about a rush of cod just before the moratorium. My answer to that is that as fish got smaller fisherman adapted to smaller mesh gear to catch more fish. The Japanese cod trap had a small mesh and a cover on top so no fish could escape.
The last year before the moratorium, I fished in the Virgin Rocks area. Very few fish caught in that area that year and one of my trips ashore I visited Petty Harbour and went down to the plant. The plant was blocked with cod and fishermen were tied up to the wharf with a load of cod they couldn’t sell because all the plants on the Southern Shore were blocked with more fish than they could process.
All the cod coming ashore was an average of 12 to 20 inches. Martin O’Brien, who had a plant in Tors Cove, had invested a huge amount of money putting in automatic machinery to be able to process small cod. That year there was a huge market for cod in United Kingdom for the fish and chip industry, while the gillnetters caught no fish that year because there were no large fish left, all the small fish were going through the gear.
The dragger fleet and the inshore fishermen with the small mesh gear were catching the small fish. I am not blaming the inshore fishermen for the collapse of the cod. They adapted the same as the dragger fleet had done for years to catch small cod, but what you are doing is destroying the last of the stock. When all you are catching is baby fish you are scraping the bottom of the barrel and that’s exactly what we did.
As to the future of the cod fishery, if it returns to a sensible harvest there is a lot of things we have to change, like landing a better quality product in order to get good returns to the industry and making sure that we never scrape the bottom of the barrel again.
We have a vast ocean that can sustain us forever, but only if we manage it properly. We didn’t do it in the 80s and 90s, and I’m not sure we will do it in the future because I haven’t seen a willingness to do so.
We have a dragger fleet that drag up everything in its path, both big and small; a prime example is Ocean Choice International. It’s catching flounder too small to process in this province. We are still catching capelin — the food for all species in the ocean.
We need to stop managing the oceans for how much money we can make. If we want a healthy ocean we need to manage it for how much food it can produce.
Wilfred Bartlett writes from Green Bay South