Draggers Caused Irreparable Damage to Fishery

I was listening to the Fisheries Broadcast recently about an interview with Mike, a professor from Scotland stating that the European Union was banning the dumping of unwanted fish in the North Sea and that this fish had to be brought ashore.

Unwanted fish is something they are not targeting, such as lower price species and fish that are of smaller size of the same kind they are fishing for. This has been going on since the invention of the dragger fleet.

This fleet fishes by dropping a huge net shaped like a funnel with the end tied up, to the bottom of the ocean and drags it over the bottom for a period of time catching everything in its path, then its retrieved and pulled onto the deck where the fish they want is kept and the rest is dumped back in the ocean dead.

I have always maintained that the problems in our ocean today are not the fish we brought ashore but of the amount of fish dragged up from the bottom and discarded. It has always been the policy of the dragger fleet to bring ashore the larger fish which is the most valuable and dump the rest, thereby making more money for the crew and the owners with no thought to the destruction to the ecosystem.

In Rauel Anderson’s book called The Voyage to the Grand Banks, he interviewed Captain Arch Thornell, who captained one of the first draggers in Newfoundland — a side dragger for one of the local fish merchants. Thornell made the statement a part of St. Pierre bank was named stinky bank because of the amount of dead fish on the bottom dumped by the draggers — not because the fish was not good but the owners did not want it because of smaller size and worth less money.

Captain Thornell also made the statement that he told the owners that this was not sustainable and we would pay the price.

Just before the cod moratorium in 1992, one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s blackest times in our history, I was in the office of Canada’s Minister of Fisheries Brian Tobin in St. John’s, where a friend of mine worked at that time. We got talking about the fishery and the scarcity of cod, he mentioned that the F.P.I. draggers were near Black Tickle Labrador waiting for the cod to move offshore, so that they could get at it.

That year, Black Tickle was the one spot in the province where there was any cod and when the draggers did get into the fish, they were dumping 30 per cent which was too small.

The year before the moratorium, I talked to a former crewman of mine who made the statement to me, “I know why there is no fish left. I was cook on one of National Sea draggers fishing in the Gulf, where the captain would drag up a catch of approx 20,000 pounds, pick out approximately 1,500 pounds and put the rest in the grinder and out through the side because it was too small to process. Companies got smarter by grinding up the undersize, it was not floating on the water plus it was baiting the bottom, keeping the fish around.”

The moral of the story, the dragger fleet has always destroyed more fish than it brought ashore — if you destroy the baby fish, how can the stock replenish for future generations.

It’s all because of greed and in doing so has put tens of thousands of people out of work in this province and millions worldwide — plus we have millions of people on this planet starving because they cannot get enough food to eat.

Where are the anti-sealing groups and the bleeding hearts that are trying to stop the seal hunt and do not give a damn about the rest of the ocean? And to the European Countries that are finally waking up, I believe it’s a little too late, your draggers have been in our waters ever since the moratorium, 23 years ago, killing our fish and breaking every fishery regulation and getting away with it, while our fishermen have had to stay ashore and watch this happen. At the same time we have an explosion in the seal population that is having a drastic effect on our remaining fish stocks all because you have listened to a few do-gooders spreading their lies and have closed your borders to seal products.

(Ret) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett
Green Bay South, N.L.

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