I write this from my son’s living room, high in the east-end hills of St. John’s, overlooking the bustling streets of Newfoundland’s capital city, and I think — yesterday I spent my day repairing Father’s old fishing premises, now mine, in a small fishing village in Notre Dame Bay — a world far removed from the consciousness of the decision-makers in the upper chambers of the Confederation Building, visible now through the early morning mist.
And I think, I think as I watch my grandkids absorbed in their devices, of my own childhood in that small fishing village — a place I will not name because it could be any of hundreds of outport communities — of the freedoms we enjoyed and the idyllic childhood we shared with our parents in the fishing boats and stages of our youth. And I look around my village, and I ask you to do the same, and I see no children playing, just the smoke from a scattered chimney signalling that the village, now mainly home to seniors, is awakening to a winter morning. And I am sad, because I see no footprints in the snow and I know things didn’t have to be this way.
And I look around my village, and I ask you to do the same, and I see no children playing, just the smoke from a scattered chimney signalling that the village, now mainly home to seniors, is awakening to a winter morning.
Our outport villages exist for one reason — fishing, traditionally for cod — and they existed for hundreds of years. But decisions, both political and otherwise, often driven by jealously and greed, over the past several decades have resulted in the degradation of a resource and the genocide of a cultural freedom that has destroyed fishing villages. In my view, ill-advised policies of the fishermen’s union embraced by unknowing politicians have destroyed the cultural fabric and economic base of our villages. In the ’70s and ’80s, instead of lobbying so that the wealth off our shores be reserved for the inshore fishers, the talk was all about getting rid of the so called “moonlighters” — the Newfoundlander with a cod-jigger — and formulating rules making it difficult for fishing enterprises to be passed down the line, as in other areas of human endeavour.
The question becomes: is there any politician with the courage to change the rules to give outport communities a fighting chance? Here is what I would suggest:
(1) Allow free enterprise in the processing sector. For centuries, multiple fish buyers right in the community would buy small amounts of herring, mackerel, squid, etc. As it stands today, if a fisherman cannot land a tractor-trailer load, there are no buyers. Let people know the cartel is no longer in control and Newfoundland and Labrador is open for business.
(2) It is very troubling in 2018 to see that the federal government is again granting licences for factory freezer trawlers to harvest the recovering cod stocks — the very thing that destroyed this great resource in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The resource needs to be protected for the benefit and survival of rural communities.
(3) In other areas of business, if an individual over the years invests in building a business, he has the freedom to pass it along to his heirs or dispose as he/she chooses. Ridiculous rules restricting entry into the fishery makes it almost impossible for young people to enter the fishery. Just for comparison, I can do a week’s course and be qualified to take tourists on the ocean. Even though my son, for example, grew up in fishing boats, and is qualified to be at the wheel of a super tanker, he might as well have grown up on the wheat fields of Saskatchewan in terms of being eligible to take over my enterprise. This has to change.
(4) In short, bring back the free enterprise that we knew, expected and loved in our democratic country, and just maybe communities with just another 10 or 15 years’ life expectancy may have a chance of survival.