When former federal Fisheries Minister John Crosbie went for a visit to Bay Bulls with his wife and grandchildren the day before he announced the closure of the northern cod fishery, he immediately spotted trouble.
There to meet him at the wharf were hundreds of people wondering what was going to happen, along with some curious reporters.
It was there that Crosbie was captured on camera spouting the now infamous phrase, “I didn’t take the fish from the God damn water.”
Speaking Friday during an event at the Confederation Building in St. John’s to mark the 20th anniversary of the cod moratorium, which Crosbie announced to the world on July 2, 1992, the current lieutenant governor was in a reflective mood.
“I must apologize for that quotation, but it was a time in which you’re under great pressure, facing hostile people that are upset, and justly entitled and should have been upset.”
Crosbie survived that day in Bay Bulls, as he did the next one in St. John’s, when he announced details of the moratorium to reporters inside a hotel where a large contingent of fish harvesters attempted to break down a door to confront him.
“Luckily, that hotel had a fantastic pair of doors,” he said. “The press conference went ahead, and all you could hear were tremendous thumps and bangs on the doors, which held. I must write the hotel a letter and congratulate them on the doors they had down there.”
While Crosbie made a few humorous remarks in a speech that lasted more than 30 minutes, most of his comments centred on the seriousness of the cod moratorium.
“Every coastal government, any government that has any connection with the sea or the fishery, has failed to preserve the oceans of the world and the fish that swim in those oceans. They have all failed, whether it’s the government of Canada or the government of this province or any of the provinces.”
Crosbie made note of a recent Department of Fisheries and Oceans report from the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, which found that prospects for a northern cod stock recovery are poor if the present level of mortality continues.
“We’re still suffering, and we haven’t overcome the problems with the fishery and the fish stocks off our coast.”
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Darin King acknowledged that the day of the moratorium was a dark one for Newfoundland and Labrador, but added that the people of the province are resilient.
“Since 1992, we have looked to other industries and, indeed, other species of fish to sustain (the fishery), and we have found new ways to keep our economy in the fishery strong and vibrant. While resource and energy development, tourism, information technology, and many other new industries drive our economy in the present day, the fishery is, and will remain, a significant part of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
King highlighted the newfound importance of shell fish to the industry. In 1989, approximately 350,000 tonnes of groundfish was landed in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to 30,000 tonnes of shell fish. In 2011, 31,500 tonnes of groundfish was caught, compared to 170,000 tonnes of shell fish.
Both Derek Butler of the Association of Seafood Producers and Earle McCurdy of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union spoke of the need to focus on the fishery’s future. Butler said there is a need for strong fisheries management policies.
McCurdy mentioned oil will not be in the ground forever and said that in order for tourism to flourish in outport communities, the fishery needs to have a presence.
“Tourism, without the remarkable and interesting and attractive draw of those coastal fishing communities and the fishing boats pulling up on the wharves ... it doesn’t have a future. It needs that kind of a context.”