In 1884, an ad for Scott’s Emulsion cod liver oil featured a captivating picture of a stooped man carrying a whopper of a Norwegian cod, nearly as big as he is.
Here, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we had our very own man bearing a weighty fish on his back. He went by the name of Augustine Etchegary — better known as “Gus.”
Symbolically, and with passionate fervour and articulation, Gus carried the N.L. codfish, its light and its fight, for close to six decades.
This Basque fisherman descendent passed away on May 7, 2023, just weeks before his 99th birthday.
Gus launched into the fishery a few years before Confederation and he never relented with his fish savvy and passion. Starting as an electrician at Fishery Products Ltd., he rose to the rank of COO at the helm of the province’s largest fishing company.
Starting in the early 1970s, Gus carried the cod plight on his back.
He formed advocacy groups, trekked to Ottawa, met with the Prime Minister and his cabinet, served as a Commissioner for Canada with the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), chaired the Fisheries Council of Canada, delivered a province-wide petition to another Prime Minister, took to the media, blasted the powers-that-be on Open Line and The Broadcast.
He also wrote endless Letters to the Editor — all in the name of the fish he had a kinship with and for the rural regions gutted of its gift.
Further, he called for an inquiry into the “colossal mismanagement” of the fisheries. “We have to understand how we got here before we can write a happy ending.”
Even in his retirement years, after more than 60 years in the industry, this incredibly engaged and energetic senior dedicated most of his free time to the fish fight. He would often say, “The basic problem is we have no resource.”
In 2013, at the age of 88, he penned a book called Empty Nets: How Greed and Politics Wiped Out the World’s Greatest Fishery.
His mighty fish spirit and conviction carried on, into his ninth decade, pointing out the many failed broken political commitments to properly rebuild and manage the fisheries, by the cod’s enemies, who didn’t live under the sea.
Cod liver oil was once used to treat the “wasting disease” of tuberculosis. Gus bore the fish on his back for such a long time, as he saw the wasting of the fish and outports that so defined us.
In the end — 31 years after the cod moratorium was implemented — almost to his last breath, he finally had to give up the fight.
Gus was no ordinary fish hero. He was a powerful warrior, a force and titan (as his friend David Vardy called him), whose contribution and commitment to N.L. can never be measured.
Still, this fish giant must be acknowledged; not with words, but with swift remedies by our provincial and federal fish guardians and caregivers.
We implore them, that if they truly wish to safeguard the true Newfoundland and Labrador soul, they must fuel themselves with Gus’ fish vision and mettle and carry the cod on their back.
Only then, can Gus rest in the peace he so deserves.
Blessings to Kay, Grant, Glenn and family on the loss of their treasured husband, dad and grand-dad.
By Kim Ploughman