The situation in NL today is as backward as ever.
We’re supposed to run out of oil — not fish.
But that’s where we are today: oil flows as codfish flatlines.
NL's coffers are practically empty of our one-time currency — codfish.
In 1989, three years before the northern cod moratorium, the landed value of the top 5 species in the NL fisheries totaled $189 million.
Even then, cod, which had begun its downward spiral, made up two-thirds of that amount — $120 million.
The other species included lobster, $18 million, plaice, $14 million, caplin, $19 million, and shrimp, $18 million.
What shape is the cod fishery in today?
One word: desperate.
In 2009, the landed value of the NL fishery totaled $359 million.
Snow crab came in first in terms of landed value, at $165 million, followed by shrimp, $109 million, clams, $46 million, lobster, $18 million, and turbot, $21 million.
Cod didn’t even register.
The fall of the cod stocks had a devastating impact on the industry.
In 1998, the province’s fishermen numbered 16,655, a figure obtained by the recent MOU report on fishing industry rationalization and restructuring.
By 2010, their numbers had fallen to 10,800.
Extending out to 2015, the number of fishermen is projected to decline by 500 or more a year.
As for fish plant workers, in 1998 their number stood at 18,070.
By 2010, the number had declined to 10,300 — a drop of 43 per cent.
Extending out to 2015, the number of plant workers is projected to decline by 600 or more a year.
And governments don’t have to lift a finger.
In terms of the number of fish plants, there were 102 licensed primary fish processing operations in 2010.
The level of profitability, however, was well below the Canadian seafood processing sector norms and is “unacceptable,” according to a financial analysis carried out by Grant Thornton.
Based on the current rate of plant attrition, in five years the number of plants will have declined by an additional 20 per cent — two-thirds of the recommended rationalization level.
Again, governments don’t have to do a thing.
So what led to the downfall of the once great NL cod stocks?
One word — overfishing.
Gus Etchegary began his fishery career with Fishery Products Ltd. in 1947, when he was hired by owner Author Monroe to install diesel-electric power supplies for the company’s fish plant operations in Isle aux Morts, Burgeo and Burin.
The following incident was witnessed by Etchegary, who was 23 years old at the time, in the south coast-community of Isle aux Morts during his first weeks with the company.
This is a personal experience in regard to foreign fishing off the Newfoundland coast.
I, along with Isle aux Morts plant manager Abe Seeley (formerly from Bareneed), witnessed an event in the area between Isle Aux Morts and Burnt Islands in March 1947 — an incident that comes to mind whenever foreign fishing in our waters is discussed.
Abe and I went for a walk in the evening when it was just getting dark and before we realized it dozens of lights appeared off the coast, and not far off either. At the time, foreign fishing vessels could come within three miles of the coast and the lights were from their masts.
In the hours that followed, Abe and I and a few more interested residents of Isle Aux Morts set out to count the number of foreign ships as best we could between Fox Roost/Margaree and Burnt Islands. There was no road to Port aux Basques at the time.
Before we finished that evening we counted more than 100 mast-headlights on foreign vessels. Some were fishing so close to shore that local people felt certain they were inside the three-mile limit.
During that time of year the ice was coming out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and it was generally understood that cod also migrated with the ice towards the western sides of the St. Pierre Bank and Burgeo Bank.
It was during that period of migration that some of the best winter fishery in Newfoundland took place along the coastline.
The inshore fishermen had a lot of fishing gear in the water in that general area. The fishery was extremely valuable to them and fish plants in that area, which also supplied fish to the spring fresh-fish market in the New England area. That required shipping fish to Port Aux Basques, across the Gulf on the ferry and then by truck to the Boston fish market.
Because it was such an important fishery everyone was concerned about the fishing gear that was in the water where the foreigners were fishing that particular night in March 1947.
By morning, all the foreigners were gone and out of sight. Local fishermen who went out to check their gear found that some of it had been torn up or lost entirely. There was considerable concern whether the foreign vessels would continue fishing in the area.
At the time, Fishery Products had a trawler named Mustang at the wharf in Isle aux Morts discharging, and when finished we had the skipper go offshore to see if the foreign vessels were still around.
Sure enough, 12 to 15 miles offshore he found a fleet of vessels from Spain, France and Portugal. They were obviously waiting for darkness and a repeat of the previous night’s performance. The skippers of the foreign vessels knew the migration of cod in that area as well or better than we did ourselves.
That foreign fishery continued for some time. It would be another seven or eight years before the limit was extended to 12 miles from the coastline, and still another three or four years before the limit was extended to 12 miles from the baseline drawn from headland to headland.
It would be another 30 years, in 1978, before the territorial limit was extended to 200 miles, which was the biggest mistake ever made by Canada on fisheries management.
Canada’s territorial limit should have been extended to encompass the entire continental shelf.
The Prime Minister, DFO, External Affairs and International Trade were warned, as early as 1971, that extending jurisdiction to 200 miles would be a huge mistake, leaving vital fish stocks on the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap at the mercy of 20 foreign fishing nations that had no concern whatever about the survival of fisheries.
Stay tuned for more examples of overfishing in the coming days.