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Fogo Island fisherman has taken big risks to build his business


Aiden Penton did not need written notes when he addressed the LIFO panel at Gander two weeks ago.

Aiden Penton of Fogo Island has spent nearly 50 years in the fishing industry, taking big financial risks since 1997 to gear up for shrimp fishing.

The Fogo Island fisherman simply told his life story.

“My father was a fisherman, my grandfather was a fisherman and my great-grandfather …” he told panellists Paul Sprout, Wayne Follett, Trevor Taylor and Barbara Crann.

His family has been making a living from the sea for so long that “I don’t know how far I can go back,” he said.

But he knows one simple truth: he was born a fisherman, and carries on a family legacy that began several generations before.

He went ‘aboard the boat’ when he could only crawl and he’s made a living from fishing for almost 50 years.

He’s seen some pretty hard years.

He’s seen fisheries fail.

“I actually had a new boat built just two years before the cod moratorium,” he said.

He’s turned with the tides, maintaining the family fishing tradition by turning to shellfish — crab and shrimp.

He took a big risk to make that switch.

When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) policies were changed to allow fishers to hold more than one licence, Penton put his financial life on the line with the banks.

 “We spent about $2.5 million to get three licences. And in 2002 we invested in a new boat.”

He risked the family house — taking out a mortgage on the roof over their heads — to maintain and expand the family fishing enterprise.

He hopes he’s built something up that can enable the next generation of Pentons — his son — to make a living from the sea.

“I’ve scraped and I’ve struggled to get to where I am today, and I got something to pass over to my son.”

However, there is now uncertainty, and the worry nags at him during the daytime and troubles his sleep.

The thing that makes him fearful, is that if Ottawa does not scrap the “last in-first out” policy on the northern shrimp quota, the Penton family could lose everything he’s worked so hard to build.

In a calm voice, Penton told the LIFO panel that won’t give up without a fight.

“I struggled to get here and I’m not going to give up easily,” said the burly, grey-haired fisherman.

“When times got tough, I just got tougher.”

There’s no other way to be if you’re a fisherman, he said.

He told the panel “Canada is a really good country to live in” but the country has also disappointed him.

“In the past 40-odd years I think the government of Canada has been trying to just put us out.”

They’ve given us quotas, cut quotas, made it so inshore fishers have had to buy licence and quotas; perpetuating a constant cycle of giving and taking away.

When it comes to northern shrimp, he said, the Government of Canada gave the inshore fleet licences to fish shrimp, and a quota to catch, with people like himself to building an enterprise and taking on debt load to do that.

 “Since 1997 I’ve had some stability in my enterprise, thanks to shrimp. And I don’t want to get backed into a corner and have it taken away.”

Penton says the shrimp fishery has help communities like Fogo Island survive.

“The young people are coming back (to fishing),” he said, adding he hopes the panel’s recommendation on LIFO will be one that will continue to encourage that.

The LIFO panel wrapped up its series of consultations last week, with final meetings in Labrador.

Their final report will be delivered to the DFO by next Wednesday.

The department will have a decision on LIFO — and on the sharing of the northern shrimp resource — by the end of next week.

And Aiden Penton will know whether or not his story carried any weight.

Barbara Dean-Simmons grew up in a fishing community in Trinity Bay and has been writing about the fishing industry for over 30 years.

Until next week:” Over and out”

Barb.Dean-Simmons@tc.tc

 

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