Still on the go

Port aux Basques fisher still has hope for cod

The Compass - - Sports - BY ROS­ALYN ROY THE GULF NEWS ros­alyn.roy@gulfnews.ca Twit­ter: @tyger­lylly

PORT AUX BASQUES, NL – It’s not all bad news.

Twenty-five years af­ter the cod mora­to­rium there is still a fish plant op­er­at­ing on the south­west coast. Lob­ster and hal­ibut are the two big fish­eries, and there are smaller species be­ing har­vested too.

The main em­ployer in the area is now Marine At­lantic, and a lot of the res­i­dents still com­mute to other prov­inces to work in the oil in­dus­try or on lake boats. But it wasn’t al­ways this way.

Be­fore the mora­to­rium there

were five fish plants op­er­at­ing along route 470 from Port aux Basques to Rose Blanche-Har­bour Le Cou. Gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies would har­vest the cod, some­times risk­ing life and limb to make a liv­ing.

“Lob­ster was a bless­ing, to see the lob­ster come back cause at the time of the mora­to­rium there wasn’t no lob­ster,” said Ger­ald Mac­Don­ald, who has spent his life in­volved with the fish­ing in­dus­try.

He be­lieves the cod stocks will re­cover even­tu­ally.

“It must,” said Mac­Don­ald. “It

must be­cause there’s not a big lot of cod be­ing caught around. The quo­tas is man­aged prop­erly and ob­vi­ously it should sus­tain.”

Fish­er­man Melvin Bate­man has been out on a boat since he was a boy, be­com­ing a full­time com­mer­cial fish­er­man in 1998. He be­lieves that if the cod fish­ery had been only hook and line, like it is in 3Pn, it would still be go­ing strong to this day.

“It looks like his­tory might re­peat it­self,” said Bate­man, who thinks the gov­ern­ment hasn’t learned much since the mora­to­rium came into ef­fect with the re­cent cuts to shrimp and crab. He says the fish­er­men were warn­ing the gov­ern­ment for years that the cod stocks were be­ing over­fished, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“There was trou­ble and they was in­creas­ing quo­tas,” he said.

Once the mora­to­rium came down the fish plant in Port aux Basques kept go­ing by turn­ing to other species, like red­fish. The plant re­mained in op­er­a­tion with em­ploy­ees able to get enough hours to qual­ify for em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance dur­ing the slow times. The Barry Group even­tu­ally closed the plant for good in the sum­mer of 2007, throw­ing 110 peo­ple out of work.

Una Lilling­ton was one of those peo­ple, work­ing mostly as a packer for over 30 years.

“You worked from 8 o’clock in the morn­ing un­til 5 o’clock in the evening all win­ter long be­cause that’s when the boats used to come here then,” she re­mem­bers. “There was all kinds of work then.”

Today she works in home care, but she still misses her job at the plant.

“I’d rather work over there than do­ing what I’m do­ing now,” she said. “At least you’d see peo­ple.”

Lilling­ton still laughs about the good old days.

“We used to have a lot of fun,” she said.

It’s likely the days of fish plants up and down the coast are gone for good, even though both Mac­Don­ald and Bate­man think that the cod fish­ery will once again be­come sus­tain­able. The trick will be not to make the same mis­takes again.

“If we just had a hook and line fish­ery with a mod­er­ate quota I think the stock could sus­tain that. Just hook and line,” warns Bate­man, “But if they let those drag­gers go back in there won’t be no time at all we’ll have an­other mora­to­rium.”

J. R. ROY / SPE­CIAL TO THE GULF NEWS

The smaller scale of the lo­cal fish­ery means some of the work is done at dock­side, with the re­main­der usu­ally sent to the Co­droy Val­ley fish plant.

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