Washed ashore

Derek Montague
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Labrador salmon tag found on Isle of Wight

Communities along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean often have stories to tell about the things that randomly wash up on shore.

Sometimes people put a message in a bottle and see where the ocean current will take it. Others may drop something into the water, only to have it end up in a different country.

On May 10, a volunteer beach cleanup crew on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom stumbled across an object that originated from the coast of Labrador.

It was an orange plastic tag, which read “NCCFOODFISH2012” followed by the number 0104082.

Adie Butler, a cleanup volunteer from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, was intrigued when he saw it. Since it clearly had a serial number, Butler wondered if he could trace the tag’s origin.

“It’s always interesting when you find something like this that’s traceable, to try and find out what it’s about and where it comes from,” said Butler.

“This one had a good description on it and a serial number on the back. I thought there was a good chance in tracing it and seeing what it was and what it was for.”

The Isle of Wight, south of England, relies a lot on its beaches to attract tourists. That tourism drives the economy.

But the beautiful shoreline has seen its fair share of garbage washing in from the sea, and so Adie Butler and other volunteers decided to start a cleanup crew to tackle the problem.

“The Isle of Wight is a real touristy destination. Most of the employment and the jobs on the island are tourist-based,” said Butler.

“During the winter, when I’m out collecting fossils in the rain and cold, I just notice the accumulation of litter that’s getting bigger and bigger. Most of the things you get down there are plastic bottles and, for some bizarre reason, shoes are quite common.”

When Butler sat down to try to trace the tag, he Google-searched “NCCFOODFISH2012” but came up with nothing. Then he typed his search into Google Images and — bingo! — up popped a picture that explained where the tag came from.

The picture showed Nunatu­Kavut Community Council (NCC) president Todd Russell holding a bunch of orange salmon tags, the same colour as the one found on the Isle of Wight.

The picture was from The Labradorian’s website article, “Setting nets and precedents,” posted in July 2012. The story describes how the aboriginal group extended the communal fishery into the Upper Lake Melville area that summer.

Butler contacted The Labradorian to talk about his amazing find.

The NCC allots salmon tags to its members for the communal fishery each year. When somebody catches a salmon, they put the tag through the fish’s gills in order to keep track of the number of salmon harvested.

When it’s time to prepare the fish for a meal, the tag is usually cut off and disposed of. Any tags that go unused are returned to the NCC.

So how did this tag make its way from Labrador to England?

According to the NCC, the tag  found on the Isle of Wight had been assigned to Harvey Brown, who lives in the coastal town of St. Lewis.

When contacted by The Labradorian, Brown theorized a seagull was the culprit.

Brown said when he prepares his salmon, he usually cuts off the head with the tag still attached and then throws the fish head into the garbage or into his garden. A seagull could have easily gone after the salmon head for a meal.

“I didn’t lose any tags,” said Brown. “It could have been one that was already used. … It probably got out from the dump. … A bird might’ve took it. I don’t know how it might have gotten in the water.”

Coincidentally, this isn’t the first time the Brown family had something of theirs travel across the ocean. In the early ’90s, Brown’s son, Trevor, put a message in a bottle and let it drift out to sea.

Two years later, they were contacted by a Rorik family in Norway who found the bottled message while helping to clean wildlife after an oil spill.

“They were picking up birds, cleaning the birds. There was a tanker that lost oil over there. … The young feller picked up the bottle with the note in it. We’ve been in touch off and on ever since,” said Brown.

“I don’t know, it seems like they pick up all of our garbage over there.”

Russell, the NCC president, was astounded when he heard that a NunatuKavut salmon tag had found its way across the Atlantic.

“It seems the tags are starting to follow the same migration path as the salmon,” joked Russell.

“That’s an extraordinary distance for, basically, a plastic tag to travel.”

Russell said he wonders how often people overlook pieces of history along beaches and never think of figuring out what it is and where it came from.

“What’s interesting is somebody actually takes the time to associate that with our organization and a particular person back in Labrador. Most people wouldn’t even think to do that,” said Russell.

“How many times do you walk down a beach and see some debris and you just brush it to the side with your foot?”

After successfully tracing one piece of washed-up garbage, Adie Butler is now keener on finding other objects that may have stories to tell.

“Since I found this, I did actually dash back down to the beach where we put about 10 bin bags of rubbish. I was actually going to grab the 10 bin bags back, take them home and see if anything else was traceable. But when I got down there, the rubbish was gone.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: NCC, Google, Kavut Community Council Isle of Wight.The

Geographic location: Isle of Wight, Labrador, England United Kingdom Cowes Upper Lake Melville Norway Atlantic

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  • Roy Critch
    May 15, 2014 - 07:15

    Was it only last year one od Fabian Manning campaign signs showed up on a beach in Ireland? Even if you do fail to get elected you should have someone remove those unsightly plastic signs and properly dispose of them.