The fishery is the most important thing in Newfoundland and Labrador. And when we speak the word fish, we refer to cod. It has provided for the people who have lived here for centuries.
Our communities were settled and shaped based on this abundant renewable resource scattered along thousands of kilometres of coastline. Today there are hundreds of communities around every cove and bay, and yet, many more live only in memory.
My childhood, although I didn’t know it at the time would be shaped by a significant shift in community with the closure of the commercial cod fishery. In 1992, more than 35,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador lost their livelihoods. It meant challenge for many who remained, re-training, diversification and even outmigration for many families.
Our classrooms got smaller through the years as families made the difficult decision to uproot and move to regions of the country that offered better job prospects. My little community always had a bustling little fish plant, where my grandmother would be providing supervision. Times were very busy there. My grandfather would say she would not even have time to finish her tea before she would be running back to the wharf, which was in view from the kitchen table. It has now been closed for decades.
I’ve heard many stories from my grandfather, father and so many others involved and connected to the fishery. It’s quite remarkable and hard to comprehend the almost unbearable workload of fishers and their families in days gone by.
I remember being 13 years old in the fishing boat with my father. One day we caught so many fish off the coast of Labrador in a small fishing boat. I think my father was competing hard to ensure he caught more fish than I, which he did. I think he admired though how hard I was working. I fondly hold that day close in memory, but I wasn’t very happy when I let my biggest catch of the day getaway.
Every year, there is a recreational food fishery. It’s an opportunity for us who are not commercial fishers to take to the water and pursue a part of our cultural heritage and go fish. This summer, I went out fishing a few times. On the first day, there were no fish, at least none that I caught. I recall times fishing with dad, spending many long hours working and waiting for the fish to take, while other times, we just struck them. I was fortunate on my last trip out before the food fishery closed that I snagged “the big one”. It would provide wonderful meals as we prepare for Fall and Winter in rural Newfoundland.
The life of a fisher, is not an easy one. There is great uncertainty, risk and extreme hard work. It is an admirable profession.
I’m the first generation in my family, since we came to Green Island Cove from Europe in the 1800’s to not be a fisher. There are many of my generation that are like me. I think although we are not fishers, we should learn the importance of the fishery, continue to participate and teach the next generation.
Rural Newfoundland and Labrador continues to be shaped by the fishery, despite the impact of cod moratorium three decades ago. Those who remain work hard to build strong, resilient communities.
Collectively, we can make “big things happen in small communities everyday”. Also, there are always lessons learned from the Big One that Got Away!
Live Rural NL –