“Clearly, the future of the Newfoundland fisheries will call for deep thinking, long-term planning, and increasing co-operation between the federal and provincial governments, the fishing industry, fishermen and scientists.”
— Dr. Wilfred Templeman, a renowned Newfoundland fish scientist, from the 1966 publication, Marine Resources of Newfoundland.
One of NL’s great political myths is the reason for the collapse of the fishery, and our tendency to blame “Ottawa, Quebec or foreigners.”
Anybody but ourselves.
But the two “myth busters” from Memorial University’s political science department who made that recent claim about the fishery are obviously uninformed.
Overfishing is the central reason for the demise of the once great groundfish fishery — overfishing primarily carried out by foreign fleets in the 1950s and ’60s.
Using 1962 alone as an example, the number of crewmen aboard foreign trawlers off NL was estimated at a staggering 34,715.
That’s roughly 10,000 more than the population of Mount Pearl today.
The gross tonnage of the foreign vessels (51 tons and over) those crewmen served on was pegged at 599,354.
Which, at an average weight per vessel of 700 tons (some vessels were much larger, some were smaller), worked out to 857 trawlers.
To summarize, in the year 1962 an estimated 34,715 crewmen served aboard 857 foreign trawlers.
No wonder the Grand Banks, at night, have been described as a “city of lights.”
How did the fishing effort from mainland Canada compare to the foreign effort?
In 1962, the number of crewmen who served aboard trawlers from the Maritimes and Quebec were estimated at 2,132.
The gross tonnage of the domestic vessels (51 tons and over) those crewmen served on was pegged at 26,566.
Which, at an average weight of 700 tons, worked out to 38 ships.
The fishing effort from mainland Canada was but a shadow of the foreign effort.
And how did the Newfoundland fishing effort compare?
In 1962, the number of Newfoundland crewmen totaled 508 — or 1.5 per cent of all crewmen, foreign or domestic, who worked off our shores.
In 1962, the gross tonnage of the Newfoundland vessels (51 tons and over) was pegged at 7,959.
Which, at an average weight of 700 tons (Newfoundland vessels weighed much less), worked out to 12 trawlers.
Newfoundland’s fishing effort was but a spit in the barrel.
Just to be clear regarding the average fishing effort in 1962:
Foreign trawlers: 857
Maritime and Quebec trawlers: 38
Newfoundland trawlers: 12.
Who would you say cleaned out the Grand Banks?
The above figures were obtained from the 1966 book, Marine Resources of Newfoundland, a publication of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, written by Dr. Wilfred Templeman, a renowned fish scientist originally from Bonavista.
Gus Etchegary, whose copy I borrowed, refers to the book as his “bible.”
THIS AND THAT
Between 1952 and 1962, the tonnage of foreign trawlers (51 tons and over) skyrocketed to 599,000 from 295,000.
Likewise, the number of crewmen also went through the roof — to 35,000 in 1962 from 19,000 in 1952.
Most countries with large, traditional fisheries in the fishing zones off Newfoundland reported an increase in tonnage fishing the area over the 10-year period.
The greatest increases were made by the USSR: from zero in 1952 to 11,000 men and a tonnage of 198,000 in 1962.
Newfoundland’s fishing effort, in terms of tonnage, declined between 1952 and ’62 — averaging less than two per cent of the total effort.
Total groundfish landings off NL jumped to 2.3 million tonnes in 1964 from 1.6 million tonnes in 1952.
Total fishing days came in at 167,000 in 1963, well above the 115,000 days recorded in 1957.
In the conclusion to his publication, Dr. Templeman wrote that the groundfish fisheries, especially for cod, were likely to remain most important for Newfoundland.
“Evidently, if greatly increased landings are to be made by Newfoundland from these fisheries we must not only take advantage of and maintain our favourable position with regard to cod in the inshore fisheries, but we must also realize that this favourable position is being weakened with every increase in the offshore fishery for cod by other nations.”
How right he was.