Fifty years later

Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety con­tin­ues as a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to life on Fogo Is­land

The Pilot - - Front Page - BY DANETTE DOOLEY

They’re out­port peo­ple with out­port ways,

But there’s nowhere to use them and now it’s too late;

And they curse on the one who ut­tered the phrase:

Re­set­tle­ment now while re­set­tle­ment pays.

— Si­mani

In 1967 the peo­ple of Fogo Is­land turned down Pre­mier Joseph R. Small­wood’s offer of re­set­tle­ment.

While the fish­ery was fail­ing and mer­chants had aban­doned their busi­nesses, the peo­ple stood firm in their re­solve to re­main put.

Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd. gen­eral man­ager Phil Barnes said Small­wood gave the peo­ple three choices: they could stay and per­ish, move with fi­nan­cial help from govern­ment, or stay and de­vel­op­ment.

Fogo Is­landers chose the third op­tion, look­ing to the sea for its fu­ture – as had been its past.

“And here we are, 50 years later,” Barnes said of the co-cop’s mile­stone an­niver­sary it’s been cel­e­brat­ing through­out the year.

The Co-op built its own ship­yard and started build­ing long lin­ers. It took over plants that had been aban­doned by mer­chants.

While there have been many strug­gles over the years, the Co-op has faced those chal­lenges and — ac­cord­ing to the Co-op’s website — not only sur­vived but has also thrived.

“When gi­ants in this in­dus­try failed, the Fogo Is­land Co-op re­mained stead­fast, com­pet­i­tive and strong. Still re­silient, the co-op con­tin­ues to adapt and are fo­cused on the fu­ture,

di­ver­si­fy­ing within and out­side the fish­ery,” the website notes.

Barnes spoke about the Coop’s part­ner­ship with Zita Cobb’s and the Shore­fast Foun­da­tion.

“Both our busi­nesses go hand-in-hand. Shore­fast and our­selves have formed an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment part­ner­ship with the town — we’re rein­vent­ing our­selves,” he said.

The Co-op owns fish plants in Joe Batt’s Arm, Sel­dom and Fogo.

The plants process nu­mer­ous species such as snowcrab, shrimp, tur­bot, cod, sea cu­cum­ber, capelin, scal­lops, her­ring, mack­eral, lump­fish and var­i­ous flat­fish.

Prod­ucts are also ex­ported to coun­tries all over the world.

Fac­ing chal­lenges

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges lead­ing into the fu­ture is one that’s preva­lent in many com­mu­ni­ties, Barnes said, an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

“We are down to about 200 peo­ple now em­ployed in our plants and we’ve got an­other 200 peo­ple tak­ing part in the fish­ery,” Barnes said. “It’s very im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that it’s go­ing to take very skilled labour and the latest tech­nol­ogy to run the fish plants of the fu­ture.”

There’s no bet­ter time to look to the fish­ery as a ca­reer choice than to­day, Barnes said.

“There is go­ing to be a void in the next eight-10 years... any­one who gets in now is go­ing to have it made... be­cause there will al­ways be a fish­ery... we have peo­ple look­ing out it now and I think it’s time to get in not to get out,” he said.

Many peo­ple have worked hard over the years to make the com­mu­nity-based en­ter­prise a suc­cess.

“We have to give credit to our found­ing fathers who started the Co-op. They gave up a lot of their own time. They saw us through some very dif­fi­cult times. But they never gave up,” Barnes said.

Well known Fogo Is­lan­der Don Best is one of those found­ing mem­bers.

Memo­rial Univer­sity hon­oured Best with an hon­orary doc­tor of laws de­gree in 2011.

Ora­tor Shane O’Dea noted the de­gree was be­stowed upon Best for “sus­tained and ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship of his own com­mu­nity which has served as a model for out­port sur­vival.”

“In the 1960s the salt fish in­dus­try, the eco­nomic main­stay of most out­ports, was in its last days – and so were those out­ports, for the govern­ment, see­ing them as con­stant and un­pro­duc­tive draw­ers of funds, had set about con­sol­i­dat­ing them in the process known as re­set­tle­ment,” O’Dea had said.

Many ca­pit­u­lated, closed and moved. Fogo Is­land did not and part of the rea­son was the re­sis­tance of peo­ple like Don­ald Best, he said.

“A fish­er­man, Best was, for a decade from 1958 to 1967, a mem­ber of the town coun­cil and its mayor in his last year as councillor. One of the founders of the Fogo Is­land Im­prove­ment Com­mit­tee he also helped cre­ate the Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive which to­day is the largest em­ployer on the is­land,” O’Dea noted.

When the co-op­er­a­tive was es­tab­lished in 1967 Don Best be­came a board mem­ber and, dur­ing his eight years as pres­i­dent, brought it through a very dif­fi­cult pe­riod, O’Dea con­tin­ued.

When con­tacted by phone, Best said when the Co-op started up no one ever though it would sur­vive to mark its 50th an­niver­sary.

Best spoke about the time in the ‘60s when Small­wood gave the peo­ple the “de­velop or per­ish” ul­ti­ma­tum.

“(Small­wood) was try­ing to get clear of all the small out­port com­mu­ni­ties. We got to­gether with him. He told us that we had to de­velop or per­ish. It wasn’t easy. It was a hard fight,” Best re­called.

“Joey was go­ing to put us some­where off the is­land... It was an in­shore fish­ery. And wher­ever we went... we couldn’t go fish­ing... there were no long lin­ers. It was strictly the in­shore fish­ery... we never had the means to get back to our fish­ing grounds,” Best re­called of what would hap­pen if their fam­i­lies were re­set­tled.

The found­ing meet­ing of the Fogo Is­land Co-op was held in De­cem­ber 1967, Best said.

“We met 40 times the first year. Some meet­ings might only be a half hour. Some would be four or five hours,” he said.

The Fogo Is­land De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion spon­sored the Co-op, he said.

“It wasn’t easy... ev­ery­body wasn’t of the one mind. We had lots of ar­gu­ments, but we did it,” Best said.

Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion

The Town of Fogo Is­land Mayor Wayne Collins is well fa­mil­iar with the Co-op. A re­tired fish­er­man, he’s been in­volved with the en­ter­prise for al­most four decades.

Collins re­called, as a young boy 40 years ago, rid­ing to and from the fish plant on his bi­cy­cle look­ing for a few hours work.

“And here I am now, the lat­ter years, see­ing the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion that’s gone on through the years. It’s easy to fol­low and mon­i­tor be­cause I was an em­ployee for a num­ber of years, and a fish­er­man for a num­ber of years. So, I can re­late to it very eas­ily,” he said.

The Co-op’s suc­cess is the ded­i­ca­tion of its mem­bers, Collins said.

There were times, he said, when mem­bers could have sold their prod­ucts else­where for a bet­ter price.

How­ever, at the end of the day, he said, there were a num­ber of fac­tors to take into con­sid­er­a­tion for sup­port­ing the Fogo Is­land Co-op.

“It was our own busi­ness. We’d con­trib­uted to it for a num­ber of years. We al­ways wanted to con­tinue to make sure it was suc­cess­ful,” he said.

Pride

You can launch a house easy and tow it away,

But the home doesn’t move, it con­tin­ues to stay;

And the dol­lars you make sure they’ll keep you alive,

But they won’t soothe the heart and they can’t ease the mind.

— Si­mani

Don Best is now 85. When it comes to Small­wood’s plan, his mind is as sharp to­day as it was half-a-cen­tury ago.

“Joey had one thing in mind: Get us off (Fogo Is­land). It was his way or no way... other places he went to got re­set­tled... I don’t know if we were too pig­headed or too stub­born. But we wouldn’t move.”

And no one is more proud of his peo­ple than Best.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF PADDY BARRY

A found­ing mem­ber of the Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd. Don Best.

PHOTOS COUR­TESY OF PADDY BARRY

Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd. gen­eral man­ager Phil Barnes.

The Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive.

With­out the Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety the long lin­ers of Fogo Is­land might have been a thing of the past.

Cod is one of the species pro­cessed by the Fogo Is­land Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety. Pic­tured, fish­ers use the cod pot­ting tech­nique.

A fine ex­am­ple of the cod caught in lo­cal wa­ters.

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