We Newfoundland fish harvesters are good people, fiercely independent, modest and hospitable.
Our fishing and sealing industries mean a lot to us. We never looked to government or wanted the Canadian government to be a big brother to us — Mother Nature was our enforcer until the Department of Fisheries came along with their heavy hand that sent our culture in a downward spin.
DFO gave permits to offshore draggers, foreign and domestic, to reap the spawning grounds in winter while the majority of fish harvesters were onshore in the winter mending gear and repairing or building boats to catch the returning fish coming from the offshore in the spring and summer. They put in place license conditions that only a Philadelphia lawyer could understand, in some cases most of these conditions have nothing to do with conservation, only with DFO policy.
Government received help for its policies from self-interest groups at the inshore harvesters’ expense. In my opinion the inshore groundfish fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador could have went forever without DFO’s intervention and survived on its own because we were governed by mother nature that sent us wind, high seas, cold weather and sea ice. Our fishing grounds were allowed to heal for up to eight months in some cases.
Also our seal hunt and seal hunters were caused to be humiliated because government gave permits to self-interest groups to make money for their cause by viewing and taking pictures of the seal hunt. I have been told that a lot of these pictures taken were doctored to discredit sealers and the seal hunt.
DFO has done such a good job of managing us, the groundfish and seal fishery, that there are very few inshore fish harvesters remaining.
In 1992, when the groundfish moratorium was called, in a little cove near were I live called Big Arm, there were 50 or more inshore fishermen —today zero and this is the common thing in outport Newfoundland and Labrador.
Our inshore harvesters did the least toward the groundfish collapse, yet they are the most prosecuted and hauled off to court by government. Most just plead guilty to get the humiliation and shame over with, much to the crown prosecutor’s delight.
Most of the outports were built on fishing or around the fishing industry — it brought new money into the community, province and country from foreign fish sales.
I have been fishing for over 40 years and saw the activity and community pride over the years diminish. Now it breaks my heart to visit some of these outports and see the fish sheds, net lofts and houses that were built by my fellow Newfoundlanders with pride collapsing in disrepair and their descendants gone to the oil patch or some large city, where most of them are cursing ever having to leave their home. Meanwhile within view of their old fishing rooms are the waters teaming with cod and other groundfish.
Even if they wanted to come back and fish they wouldn’t be able to because of government regulations. They would have to take courses and be an apprentice up to seven years before they could get a fishing enterprise. A farmer can pass over their farm to their son or daughter, not so in the fishery.
Since Confederation in 1949, our culture and cultural values have been eroded by the Canadian government without consideration because we are a minority with very little political power.