Where fishing matters

Gavin Simms
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Southern Harbour depends on tradition

Southern Harbour goes quietly about its business, if only because its business is fishing. With over 50 boats tied up at its shores, the town prides itself on remaining a prosperous fishing community.

Southern Harbour has a population of over 400. And every boat is owned by a resident.

Local fisherman Eric Pendergast wants nothing more than to dispel the myth that the Newfoundland fishery is in ruins. He wants to make it known there's a future on the ocean, and not only for oil tankers.

Eric Pendergast(left) and Roger Best stand before a wharf blocked with boats in Southern Harbour. Gavin Simms photo/The Packet

Southern Harbour -

Southern Harbour goes quietly about its business, if only because its business is fishing. With over 50 boats tied up at its shores, the town prides itself on remaining a prosperous fishing community.

Southern Harbour has a population of over 400. And every boat is owned by a resident.

Local fisherman Eric Pendergast wants nothing more than to dispel the myth that the Newfoundland fishery is in ruins. He wants to make it known there's a future on the ocean, and not only for oil tankers.

"Southern Harbour is the biggest fishing community in Placentia Bay," he says.

"It's always been the same here, even when the cod fishery closed down in '94. The cod trap fishery - that was one of the biggest years they had."

Last fall, Pendergast says, they hauled more cod up to the wharf than ever before. About 40,000 lbs a day was landed.

"Most of them here still make good money. A few of the boys are after adding second enterprises," he notes.

He's been in the fishing industry for some 30 years. Due to problems with his back, he's been ashore for the past two.

Government control

Although the fishery is thriving, the town can't help but feel it's living in the shadow of the nearby Come By Chance refinery.

"We've been unnoticed. We just go unassuming. There's nothing being said about us," Pendergast argues. "Danny Williams, he haven't got the oil out of his eyes yet. He's still neglecting the fishing industry."

Randy Best is a local fisherman who also serves on the town council.

He says the wharf's offloading facility isn't up to par. They need more funding for that. They're also trying to get money from the government to renovate the fisherman's centre, where all their gear is stored. As well, there's not enough room for the boats to dock when they're all ashore, although a new wharf was constructed just last year.

"The government don't care about you half the time. We ask for stuff and we almost have to beg to get it," Pendergast says. "It took us about 10 years to get a wharf for some of the boats. We had a storm here and boats were damaged that never should have been damaged."

For what they contribute to the province's economy, Pendergast says the town isn't getting its fair share of funding.

"All they've got to look at is what we put in. Crab is somewhere around $2 million a year landed by our fishermen and cod is close to a million or better. Still, the government don't look at that."

Best finds frustration in the fact that fishermen have no control. What he's getting for his catch makes the effort he puts in irrelevant.

"In 1991 I was trappin' cod, and you take the fish out of the trap and heave it in the hold of the boat. There was no guts took out of it, it wasn't washed, iced or nothing else. You come in and you sell it and you got 35 cents for it. Today, now we've got to gut it, wash it, pack it in ice and still we're only getting 35 cents. And I bet there's no difference in the price at the market," Best says with a shake of his head.

"Something's wrong with the system somewhere."

Both agree something has to be put into place so that the price of fish is set before seasons start, to ensure it's worthwhile to go at it.

"It's always, they want to do a study. We knows what needs to be done but they want to waste time and money on a study," Best says, noting the recent announcement of a memorandum of understanding between the province, the fishermen's union and fish processors to work towards a restructuring plan for the fishing industry. The process will involve working groups, each one to focus on a different aspect of the fishery, reporting to a steering committee which will make recommendations to the provincial government.

Pendergast's advice is simple: "We don't want to lose what we've got."

Future

Southern Harbour has no more than three or four fishermen under the age of 30, losing the majority of its young people to skilled trades.

"The young fellas just aren't getting back into it. The enterprises are there and it's a lot of hard work, but it's still a good living. And you don't have to go away," Pendergast points out.

He's convinced the government is trying to wash its hands of the fishery - make it so one big boat catches what 50 might otherwise. And that would certainly spell the end of a town like Southern Harbour, which relies solely on fishing.

Pendergast says he'd like to see the province promoting the industry for the younger generations and making it easier for them to get out on the water, without going over their heads in debt.

But he's not hopeful about that.

The only point he can make is that the Newfoundland fishery isn't as dead as it may seem.

"It's in our blood. It's not something we all have to do; it's something we love to do. I'm over two years can't get out in the boat and I might jump over the wharf one of these days.

"We don't make a fortune and we're not all millionaires, but we make a good living. We got money in our pockets and we got what we want."

Geographic location: Southern Harbour, Newfoundland, Placentia Bay Chance

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Recent comments

  • fu
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Brett your an idiot. the reason 50 boats are better is that it spreads the cash out between a larger group of people. your way the larger company's pocket all the cash and the small guy is out of the picture. more money sucked out of the economy and piled up in the riches
    bank accounts. whole community's can thrive, pay taxes and build other small business with their profits. The days of cattle barons are supposed to be gone. Running people out of their homes is not the answer.Take a few of these larger boats out of the fleet and you could turn things around for many community's.

  • Aub
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    I don't understand why people write about how well they are doing but still look to the government for help. I worked for a living all my life and never once asked the government to step in and help me. But the government kept taking from me(taxes): no freebees or tax breaks.

  • joan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Manny is right to some extent,but when you have a minister like Tom hedderson,who doesn't know one species of fish from the next,it doesn't help..Then you have Danny Williams with only oil on the brain

  • Brett
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I've got a question... Why should you have 50 boats and all the people associated with those boats doing what 1 larger boat with a smaller crew could do?

    As technology gets better the payment for doing the same thing gets worse... you should be able to do more for the same price, be that fishing, drilling for oil, making computers, or carpentry.

    I'm not saying there isn't a dislocation in the market place and that oligopolies allow the independent fishers to be squeezed, but fighting innovation, change and efficiency is a losing argument.

  • Brett
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    FU: While my question touches upon a delicate subject - it was supposed to be taken a little tongue in cheek - putting the reverse spin on the statement in the article.

    I don't see the money going into the rich people's bank accounts and sitting there. I see new businesses starting up, I see higher paying jobs and greater opportunity being afforded.

    I see the people on the 50 boats doing something different, so now you've got fewer people developing more resources (be they physical resources or intellectual property/labour), and being able to generate more capital and disposable income instead of maintaining the status quo.

  • Manny
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Not once did I see the word FEDERAL mentioned in this letter. Yes the provincial governmebt plays a part but it is the feds who have most of the say in NL's fishery. They are also mostly responsible for its near demise. They do not have your best interests at heart. Ask them(feds) what they will do when the cod stocks recover. You may be surprised even shocked at the answer you get. That is if they even give you an answer!

  • fu
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Brett your an idiot. the reason 50 boats are better is that it spreads the cash out between a larger group of people. your way the larger company's pocket all the cash and the small guy is out of the picture. more money sucked out of the economy and piled up in the riches
    bank accounts. whole community's can thrive, pay taxes and build other small business with their profits. The days of cattle barons are supposed to be gone. Running people out of their homes is not the answer.Take a few of these larger boats out of the fleet and you could turn things around for many community's.

  • Aub
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    I don't understand why people write about how well they are doing but still look to the government for help. I worked for a living all my life and never once asked the government to step in and help me. But the government kept taking from me(taxes): no freebees or tax breaks.

  • joan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Manny is right to some extent,but when you have a minister like Tom hedderson,who doesn't know one species of fish from the next,it doesn't help..Then you have Danny Williams with only oil on the brain

  • Brett
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    I've got a question... Why should you have 50 boats and all the people associated with those boats doing what 1 larger boat with a smaller crew could do?

    As technology gets better the payment for doing the same thing gets worse... you should be able to do more for the same price, be that fishing, drilling for oil, making computers, or carpentry.

    I'm not saying there isn't a dislocation in the market place and that oligopolies allow the independent fishers to be squeezed, but fighting innovation, change and efficiency is a losing argument.

  • Brett
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    FU: While my question touches upon a delicate subject - it was supposed to be taken a little tongue in cheek - putting the reverse spin on the statement in the article.

    I don't see the money going into the rich people's bank accounts and sitting there. I see new businesses starting up, I see higher paying jobs and greater opportunity being afforded.

    I see the people on the 50 boats doing something different, so now you've got fewer people developing more resources (be they physical resources or intellectual property/labour), and being able to generate more capital and disposable income instead of maintaining the status quo.

  • Manny
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Not once did I see the word FEDERAL mentioned in this letter. Yes the provincial governmebt plays a part but it is the feds who have most of the say in NL's fishery. They are also mostly responsible for its near demise. They do not have your best interests at heart. Ask them(feds) what they will do when the cod stocks recover. You may be surprised even shocked at the answer you get. That is if they even give you an answer!