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‘An Opinion-The Newfoundland Food Fishery Vs the Perils of the Sea’

Yes, we are fishing in Newfoundland. The government condescended to grant us a five-week fishery, probably to shut us up. We have been granted, from on high, a four-week fishery that is now ongoing, and another week in October. Fantastic isn’t it?

I spend a lot of time on the water, and I try to keep a sharp eye on everything that happens in our province. I do not like what I see right now. If we can get through this ‘food fishery’ without a drowning, we’ll be darn lucky!

The Newfoundlanders and Labradorians history, heritage, and way of life, runs through our veins. Our tears are salty like the sea, and over the last decade the sea has probably gathered more salt water from the tears shed by people standing on their wharves, not being allowed to fish, and knowing they have to leave Newfoundland to survive. So, that is what they do. The fact that the number boats out taking part in this ‘gift’ we have been given is down 20-25% from the last year is proof of the massive out-migration we are experiencing.

So strong is the call to the sea in our province that we will actually humble ourselves and accept the crumbs handed to us by the Federal Government. During the fishery the fishers are out on the water remembering their past, and enjoying catching a fish or two. I have not seen one greedy fisher, they are obeying the laws, laughter ripples across the sound, men have their dogs with them, and I am sure for the older folk it is foremost in their minds that this may be the last time they go out to fish. It is incredibly sad.

So, let me take you back to the boats, if indeed some of the water craft can even be called boats. Many Newfoundlanders have sold their sturdy traditional Newfoundland boats, so now they use anything that could be called a boat just to be able to ‘be out on the bay’. Herein lies the danger. This fleet of ‘less than safe boats’ are loaded down with people, and the water is up to the gunnels.

A few days ago a man launched his small punt to go fishing. He is eighty years old, and could not resist the call to the sea. He was out in very deep water when his engine sputtered and quit. While he was trying to fix the motor the boat was slowly going down with water almost over the transom. He failed to notice it, the transom finally fell off the punt completely and the poor man found himself in icy cold water. There was no other boat in sight. Luckily someone in a much bigger boat was cruising that way and saw the man in the water struggling and immediately went to rescue him. If that cabin cruiser had not come along that elderly man would have drowned, or died of hypothermia. He was fortunate! But there will come a time, I am sure, when there will be no Good Samaritan cruising by when such an incident occurs.

Most fishers, I would say 99%, wear their flotation vest, however the hypothermia that occurs in that icy water cannot be stopped by any flotation gear. It is amazing that this man did not die of it because he was in the water for approximately ten minutes before he was rescued. In another incident a man rowed from Clarenville to Smith Sound, and had to stop three times to bail out his boat. But he was determined, and when he did finally come into sight of someone else they took him aboard and towed his ‘boat basket’. Many incidents like these are happening all over Newfoundland, however I can only address the facts in our own area. There are many boats of course that are safe, cared for, and the owners have knowledge of the sea.

The fishers in the poorly kept boats are a tragedy waiting to happen.

When fishing was in its heyday, the fishers had their gaffs, boat hooks, oars, and anchors and now some do, but most do not. Also there are people out fishing who have never fished before and do not know about wind and tides etc. and often stop another boat to ask where they really are, having drifted while fishing with no grapple holding their boat. It is a scary situation.

Then there is the Department of Fisheries who are working so hard to find someone to charge with some minor deviation of the guidelines. Seven fishers have been charged, one with obstruction of justice because he would not hand over his fish, another with having another species other than cod in the boat, a catfish or flounder, and another because he was one fish over the limit which was a very honest mistake. These seven charges are so ridiculous to be comical. I wonder how many of those charged were read their rights-good question!

Not too long ago I noticed a cross mounted on a huge rock on shore. My husband took our boat to where the cross was because it looked so unusual. I went ashore and crawled up the big boulder to read the writing on the cross.

It was a Memorial Cross, put there by the family of a young man who lost his life by drowning in that exact place.

Let us hope and pray that this ‘food fishery’ does not have any more families mounting crosses where loved ones have lost their lives.

Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe