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Letter: The goofiest goof of all our goofy goofs

Caplin rolling at Middle Cove.
Caplin rolling at Middle Cove.

July 2nd marked 25 years since then federal Fisheries minister John Crosbie, in full bluff and blustering offensive mode, fed the public of this place the line (hook and sinker firmly attached) that there was to be a two-year moratorium imposed on the northern cod fishery.

Two years became three, soon five and 10 passed and now 25 years without a significant cod fishery. Before you know, it will be 30 years gone and then the 50th anniversary of the interminable cod moratorium.

Can someone, anyone – fisherman, scientist, manager; minister or his deputy or his assistant; fish union leader of the past present or wannabe; farmer, rancher or orchard owner who have never seen the sea but know the value of fertile ground — explain why there has never been an accompanying moratorium, not so much as of 25 seconds’ duration, on the commercial caplin fishery?

In the business section of The Telegram of June 30 there was an article titled, “Scientists ask N.L. to keep watch for caplin,” and subheaded, “Study attempts to use social media to improve knowledge of forage fish.”

A researcher with the Labrador Institute and the Fisheries and Marine Institute at MUN opines caplin is significant for the region’s ecosystem but generally not as well understood as some other species and she adds, “I think everybody — scientists, academics and government — is trying to fill the knowledge gap.”

A “knowledge gap” of a “keystone” fish species at this late date, 25 years in? Heaven help us. Norway has a-million-tonnes-a-year cod fishery. What is the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries knowledge of their caplin stock? Would you hazard a guess on Norse academia’s knowledge?

Iceland has a 200,000-tonnes-per-year cod fishery. What is the health of Iceland’s caplin stock? A) at or near historic highs. B) 60 per cent to 90 per cent. C) 30 per cent to 59 per cent. D) Less than 25 per cent but way better than the Goofy Newfie’s piddling amount. (Psst. Psst. Being Iceland, the answer would be A.)

According to fisheries scientist George Rose’s excellent textbook on the ecological history of the cod, the estimated historic yearly tonnage for caplin in Newfoundland and Labrador waters is 10 million to 12 million tonnes. Good God, even if we had just 10 per cent of that high it would be a million tonnes or more! As it is, there may be an embarrassing 300,000 or 400,000 tonnes, that is, three or four per cent. Disgraceful.

Three hundred thousand or 400,000 tonnes is last year’s estimate. There is no real reason to be optimistic for great numbers this year.

Reading, at times, about Norwegian and Icelandic successful fisheries management, I have often wondered how the Russian cod fishery is doing in Northern Russia’s share of the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

After then Soviet Fisheries minister Alexander Ishkov hoodwinked (codded the eyes out of. No kiddin’.) former Canadian Fisheries minister Jimmy Sinclair (guess whose maternal grandfather he is) in 1956, Russian fishermen, along with those from their Warsaw Pact allies, were the most destructive and buccaneering offshore Eastern Canada.

Indeed, from Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod to Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, the East European fishing technique could best be described as akin to clear-cutting a forest. They took everything but the salt from the sea. So, how are their fishing enterprises these days?

At their annual general meeting in Gander last fall, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador passed a resolution naming 2019 the Year of the Cod. Let us hope that is not because there are federal and provincial general elections that year and the voter must be taken in with tall tales and fabulous promises. Again, codded.

The formula is simple, Premier Dwight Ball. An abundant caplin stock means a healthy ocean equals a bumper cod fishery.

How about Crosbie’s original two-year moratorium on the northern cod fishery being now transferred to the caplin fishery? Better yet, a lustrum would be two generations of caplin living, eating, growing, breathing, spawnin’ and miltin’, dying and replenishing the too clean and unnaturally clear seawater around us.


Tom Careen

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