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Letter: Fortitude pays off in Fogo

A tourist walks in front of the renowned Fogo Island Inn.
A tourist walks in front of the renowned Fogo Island Inn.

Fogo is an Island stuck out in the North Atlantic off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. It has a very rugged coastline, rough seas at times, and numerous shoals that have sunk ships, blocked in with heavy Arctic ice three to four months of the year.

Fogo Island is made up of several communities — Fogo, Joe Batt’s Arm-Barr’d Islands-Shoal Bay, Seldom-Little Seldom, Tilting and the Fogo Island region.

Why would anyone settle there? The simple answer was fish.

I have visited Fogo Island four times before this year, twice sealing and went in there for shelter, and twice for fishery conferences.

This past year, with an invite from Phil Barnes, manager of Fogo Island Co-op, which was celebrating 50 years of operation, I decided to visit again. I knew three of the founding members of the co-op and a few fishermen from days gone by. This time I got a chance to visit most of the communities.

It was like stepping back in time to see all the fishing stages, some probably 80 to 100 years old, jewels for the tourist industry.

During the Resettlement program, Joey Smallwood tried to remove the people from Fogo Island in the name of prosperity. I don’t think there was much thought given to how they were to feed their families after moving.

The people of Fogo Island were hardworking, resilient and stubborn. How else did they survive all these years? The one great thing they had going for them was that they were close to fishing grounds, which have sustained this province for 500 years.

The people of Fogo Island dug in their heels and fought back against the government, saying we are not leaving.

Fifty years ago, the Fogo Island Co-op got off the ground.

Today, Fogo Island has a population of 2,244, the co-op has a workforce of 200 and is buying fish from approximately 180 fishers — quite a comeback for an island doomed by the Smallwood government.

The island has a rich history, which is a big tourist attraction. I was surprised at the number of houses all over the Island providing bed and breakfast services (almost every second one).

With the addition of the Fogo Island Inn by Zita Cobb, the island has received a huge boost from tourism. Fogo Island Inn employees 193 locals.

Fogo Island is one of the few places where you can combine the old and the new in one visit, as we witnessed on our last trip.

Fogo Island has a bright future because people had a vision; they saw their way of living slipping from their grasp and decided to take control, and with the help of Stan Kinden, Don Best and Sandy Cull (good friends of mine) and other board members who dug in their heels, Fogo is what it is today, a model community amongst hundreds that are falling by the wayside, all because our fishery was never important enough to be managed properly.

The children and grandchildren of the founding members of the Co-op have to be very proud of the success of Fogo Island.

Fogo Island, you have a bright future because you believed in yourself, but it’s going to be a constant battle. Your Island depends on the fishery and it has to be managed properly, because without the fishery you will not have any tourism — no old stages, no fishing boats, no one to take you out to catch a cod. Secondly, you have to have a good ferry system in order for tourism to grow.

Fogo Island is a model that can be copied by others in this province, with people who can take control and get the best out of the resources that they have. They have to benefit from the fishery close to their community and have the support of both federal and provincial governments, as well as people who believe our future depends on the fishery as it did in the past.

Hats off to the people of Fogo Island.

Really enjoyed my visit and hope to do it again.

 

Wilfred Bartlett
Green Bay South
wilfbartlett@hotmail.com

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