Occasionally something happens that “takes the cake” and sticks in your gut to the point that you have to get it off your chest.
February 20, 2015 being a beautiful afternoon in Twillingate my wife and I decided to take a leisurely 30-minute drive up to Summerford to try and catch a few smelt for supper. When we arrived at the little cove by the highway, I noticed the federal fishery pickup pull in behind the vehicles already stopped on the roadside, a half dozen people already out on the ice, trying their luck.
Sure enough, the two DFO officers dressed in their bullet proof vests with their handguns prominently visible on their hips, got out of their vehicle and proceeded to walk out on the cove ice to where the five or six residents were fishing for smelt.
Now to this generation, and perhaps to the two officers, there was nothing out of place with this type of behaviour, but to me, having grown up in a small fishing village enjoying the freedoms of my generation, it was sickening to me to see one officer bother to lift the lip of the 80-year-old gentleman’s shopping bag, to look in and see the two or three smelt that he had caught. The elderly gentleman just sat on his bucket, clearly feeling a little intimidated by a DFO officer checking his small catch.
I had to speak up and ask the officer, “Are there any laws to be broken here today?“
“No,” he replied, “ there is no catch limit on smelt.”
In fairness, the officers were polite enough, but I thought to myself, knowing the destruction going on today, on our continental shelf, by factory freezers, both our own shrimpers and foreign fleets, certainly there must be a better allocation of resources in DFO than to have fishery officers driving around, wasting time and tax dollars and making old men feel uncomfortable when there is no possibility of any law being broken or any illegal fish within a 50 miles of this little sheltered cove.
Much better to save the effort for next summer when the retired judges and country club types, bored with life, spend day after day on the salmon rivers of this province catching and releasing Atlantic salmon, exhausting those beautiful creatures, as they try to reach the headwaters of the rivers to release their eggs — all in the name of sport — the thin leaders sometimes splitting the salmon’s tail, making forward headway against the current impossible.
Then picture that cruelty against the backdrop of a fisherman being forced to throw away any dead salmon that should be an accidental by-catch in a herring or mackerel net, rather than being permitted to bring ashore for his children to eat.
Having grown up and enjoyed the freedoms of an outport childhood, and knowing that we as inshore fishers did not destroy the resource, petty actions by young fishery officers out to save the world is hard to take, but to today’s generation, who will never experience the richness of our youth, such behaviour will be accepted as the norm.
I could write on many other examples of pettiness by small-minded DFO officers, but suffice today, just to say to them, “Boys, concentrate on the issues that matter and don’t sweat the small stuff — at the expense of liberty so dearly bought by many young Newfoundlanders a generation or two ago.”
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