Repeating Myself 30 Years Later

Looking back, it’s ironic the two big stories in the news the week of January 10, 2020 were the death of the Hon. John Crosbie, who was Fisheries Minister at the time of the moratorium in 1992 and now 28 years later we are told the cod stocks in the Gulf are in danger of extinction.

What have we learned in 28 years?

I think we all know the answer to that one, but for some reason the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the managers of our oceans do not seem to get it.

In the late 1980s, fishermen sounded the alarm that there was trouble with the cod, but despite dire warnings, the managers and the scientists paid little attention. There was a moratorium on the Labrador coast off Makkovik two years prior to 1992. Makkovik had been the highliner for a few years, but in 1990 produced less than 500 pounds — not enough to eat.

In this letter I am repeating myself from 30 years ago where I was explaining what was happening to the cod.

The foreigners discovered huge concentrations of cod on the Hamilton Banks, where the stock would congregate to spawn in huge numbers — very easy to catch. The late Dr. Wilfred Templeton, one of our top scientists, talked about being up to your knees in spawn on the decks of the draggers.

As the cod got scarce, we developed a market for the roe of capelin and we caught every one we could sell. Capelin and herring are the main food for the cod and also the seals. Many times in March and April, while hunting mature harp seals, you could get a five-gallon bucket of capelin from the stomach of one harp seal. You can’t do that any more.

And speaking of seals, the data on the amount of harp seals from the time are estimated at 2.2 million. Suddenly the anti-sealing groups found a way to present the baby seal as a great fundraising stunt and through their lies, were able to shut down the seal hunt completely in the 1980s. The seal population, due to no predators, exploded to what it is today, nearly nine million, a 400 per cent increase from the 80s. These seals need a lot of food to survive.

DFO biologist Karen Dwyer said in her article in The Telegram on Jan. 9, 2020, “Cod stocks in 3PS are in the critical zone. In the Northern Gulf, where harp seals were potentially a problem, all the evidence we looked at indicated that it wasn’t a problem based on the fact that seals spend a lot of their time in the Arctic.”

If Karen Dwyer had looked at reports from the logbook of the M.V. Nancy Bartlett (my vessel) on file at DFO office, she would have seen a different story.

In the 80s, while fishing in the Makkovik area, she would find that in November of one year, no seals reported, but in subsequent years, my fishing days were cut short on the Labrador coast because harp seals appeared on the scene.

Within two days of their appearance, cod and turbot disappeared. That occurred two weeks earlier each year until 1990 when there was nothing left on the Labrador Coast. It was a disastrous year for me and my last year on the Labrador coast. They did not eat all the fish, but certainly made it disappear from traditional fishing grounds.

My conclusion was as the seals increased in numbers, there was not enough food in the Arctic to sustain them, that’s why they came south earlier each year to find food and were later returning to the Arctic.

I would advise Karen Dwyer to talk to the fishermen on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland and the Labrador coast if she wants to know the truth about the seals.

There were four reasons for the collapse of the cod in 1990–91:

  1. Dragging on the spawning grounds.
  2. Allowing the seals to explode in population.
  3. Catching the main food of the cod and seals. The more the seal eats, the less for the cod and cod, like everything on this planet, needs food to survive.
  4. The foreign fishing vessels that had no regard for conservation.

Cod was king and sustained us for 500 years.

If you want the cod to return to our oceans, you have to deal with the above four reasons, plus one more.

We have to treat the ocean with respect, the same as the farmer does with their fields.

Our fishery is in a mess all because our government both in this province and in Canada doesn’t give a damn about our most valuable renewable resource and are not prepared to do anything to fix the problem, therefore we are left floundering around in the ocean with no one at the rudder.

Why am I repeating myself 30 years later, no one has ever said I was wrong?

I am hoping this time someone will pay attention to what I am saying so that our children will not look back and curse us for what we have done.


Wilfred Bartlett
Green Bay South, N.L.


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