No time to Retire

Bill Bowman
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Fish industry innovator marks 70 years in the workforce

At a time when people seem to be retiring younger, Alec D. Moores is an anomaly. The spry 87-year old fishing industry pioneer just marked 70 years in the workforce.

Retirement? Forget it.

"I'm gone well beyond that," Moores joked during an interview at his office overlooking Bay Roberts harbour.

Alec Moores, 87, stands in front of the Masonic Lodge on Victoria Street, Harbour Grace. Photo by Bill Bowman/The Compass

At a time when people seem to be retiring younger, Alec D. Moores is an anomaly. The spry 87-year old fishing industry pioneer just marked 70 years in the workforce.

Retirement? Forget it.

"I'm gone well beyond that," Moores joked during an interview at his office overlooking Bay Roberts harbour.

Moores was born in Blackhead, Conception Bay on Dec. 30, 1919, and started work at age 17 with the Bank of Nova Scotia in Fogo. He worked in branches at Twillingate, Grand Bank, Harbour Grace and St. John's before leaving the banking world in 1944 to work for importer/exporter Steers Ltd. in St. John's and Montreal.

In 1947, he started what would become six decades in the fishing industry when he returned to Newfoundland to work for Northeastern Fish Industries Ltd. The Harbour Grace plant was then owned and operated by Silas W. Moores (no relation), the father of future premier Frank Moores. Alec Moores served as vice-president and general manager.

These days, Moores makes the drive from Harbour Grace to Bay Roberts every morning, where he's still active in the operations of Harbour International and Alec D. Moores Ltd.

"I like to get out for the fresh air and change of scenery," he said.

He also likes to keep his finger on the pulse of the industry in which he has spent most of his working life.

When cod was king

Moores has witnessed many changes in the fish business. One of them was the advent of the fish stick in U.S. markets in the mid-1950s.

"Cod became the best material for the fish stick," he said.

However, import duties made it too costly to make fish sticks here for the American market. Instead, cod was shipped out in frozen blocks, with the final processing taking place south of the border.

Moores said the Harbour Grace plant's large freezers were an advantage, since they "gave it the capacity to hold product until the buyer needed it."

Cod was king in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, but Moores knew long before the collapse of the northern cod stocks in 1992 that diversification of species was the way of the future.

In fact, Moores said his greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry was probably "finding and developing new markets for all species of fish for our fishermen to catch and our plant workers to process."

Species such as Greenland turbot, caplin, herring, mackerel and squid, "were all vital to the inshore fishermen to secure a solid economic base for their operations," he said.

"As market opportunities for these species were developed, that also gave plant workers a longer working season than could be provided from processing cod from inshore sources in June and July."

In the 1950s, the Portuguese White Fleet operated an armada of hook-and-line fishing vessels off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Portuguese had been using bait supplied by the Norwegians until Moores convinced them to try Newfoundland squid. They were soon hooked.

The new demand for bait fish led to expansion in Harbour Grace.

"We had to build a bigger warehouse to hold the squid," Moores explained.

At its peak, some 86,000 tonnes of squid were processed in Newfoundland.

"It was big business back then."

Japan was also hungry for squid, as a food source.

Changing hands

In 1965, British giant Uniliver took over Northeastern Fish Industries and ran the Harbour Grace plant for three years.

When they left, the provincial government bought the operation and put it up for sale.

Alec Moores was the principle shareholder in Ocean Harvesters Ltd., which took over the plant in 1969. The company also ran plants in Old Perlican and Port de Grave from 1969 to '86.

From 1986-96, Moores operated a crab plant at Port de Grave, under the name Moorfish.

"My original concept, in the days of Ocean Harvesters," he said, "was to establish at tide water, a reefer cold-storage operation in Harbour Grace," which he calls "the best port in the bay."

Those plans fell through when the Ocean Harvesters property in Harbour Grace changed hands in 1986.

"We bought the property here in 1987," Moores said of the company's holdings in Bay Roberts.

Harbour International Ltd. operates a warehouse where frozen fish - mostly shrimp and Greenland turbot - is landed, stored and graded for transshipping all over the world.

The firm also buys local blueberries and ships them to U.S. and Japanese markets.

Moores served two terms as president of the Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and was a director of the Fisheries Resource Council of Canada and a member of Memorial University's Board of Regents. He's a former mayor and MHA for Harbour Grace. In 2002, he was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Business Hall of Fame.

Cod collapse

Moores vividly remembers the early warning signs in the cod fishery.

"From 300 tonnes of cod landed by inshore fishermen in the early 1960s, it started to slide away to nothing," he said.

"At the time, I made a prediction: anyone caught on Water Street in Harbour Grace with a codfish in his hand would be asked where he got it."

He contends the problem was twofold: there was no long-term survival plan for cod, and the federal government had too much control.

Although he voted for Confederation, Moores said there were downsides to giving up independence.

"We lost too many of our rights, but the biggest thing we lost was our freedom to make a living."

Moores said one of Newfoundland's failings as a society was not taking enough pride in the fishing industry to develop a better knowledge of it. Little wonder so many consider it the industry of last resort, he said.

Organizations: Harbour International, Bank of Nova Scotia, Grand Bank Steers Northeastern Fish Industries Ltd. The Harbour Grace Ocean Harvesters Portuguese White Fleet Uniliver Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Resource Council of Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Business Hall

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Bay Roberts, St. John's Blackhead Conception Bay U.S. Fogo Montreal Port de Grave Japan Old Perlican Water Street

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