“There’s a generation gone that never touched a codfish”
Bonavista plant worker reflects on the past 25 years
BONAVISTA, NL — Barry Randell, along with the rest of Newfoundland, sat on the edge of his seat on July 2, 1992, glued to his TV set, as federal fisheries minister John Crosbie announced the closure of the northern cod fishery.
“I remember sitting up in my living room, listening to the news, just like everybody else, and Crosbie made the announcement. All of a sudden he was telling you your job was gone,” Randell recalled. “’Where do we go from here?’ that was on everyone’s mind. Overnight you were out of a job basically.”
Randell had worked at the cod plant in Bonavista since 1977.
He says that, terrible as the news was, Bonavista did manage to catch a bit of a break.
“It was a big impact, but in our case it was a little different.
“Here in Bonavista we were a bit lucky because we had the crab plant, so we transitioned from groundfish,” he explained. “Overnight you went from two plants to one.”
Randell was one of those workers who was able to make the transition from cod to crab.
With a surplus of demand for crab, Randall says workers in and around Bonavista managed to get back on their feet quickly.
“Whatever happened the groundfish collapsed and the shellfish took off . . . most everybody here had a job to fall back on.”
But that doesn’t mean the moratorium hasn’t left its mark on this North East coast town.
“When my daughter went to high school, there were 700 kids in the high school. Now there’s 300 in the high school,” he said. “Same thing with Matthew Elementary. When I graduated from high school, there was a job here for me to go. My kids, they never had that option . . . and that happened all over.
“There’s a generation gone that have never touched a codfish.”
Randell, who is the current chairperson at the fish plant in Bonavista, is optimistic that cod will return, and that when it does, the work will draw young people back to the area.
“Cod is making a comeback,” he said. “I think eventually we’ll see groundfish produced here again.
“We need longer term jobs to convince young people – young people aren’t going to stay around for 16 weeks work, you can’t blame them. [With cod] we worked April to October, even November some years. With crab, you come in with April and by mid July you’re pretty much done.”
Barry Randell says that as hard as times were, Bonavista could rely on shrimp.