Still on the go
Port aux Basques fisher still has hope for cod
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.”
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.