The Cod Fishery.

  252. As will be seen from Map No. 5, the cod-fishery is divided into (a) the Bank fishery, (b) the Shore fishery, and (c) the Labrador fishery. Newfoundland's total annual catch of cod averages 1,500,000 dry quintals or hundredweights, of which about 200,000 quintals are consumed locally. Of the total catch, the Bank fishery produces about 100,000 quintals and the Labrador fishery about 320,000 quintals. In late years, however, the catch on the Labrador coast has been below the average.

St. Peter's Bay and Lewis Inlet.
Photographer unknown. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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St. Peter's Bay and Lewis Inlet


  253. The Bank fishery is conducted on the Grand Bank of Newfoundland, 50-300 miles to the south-east of the Island; and on Green Bank, St. Pierre Bank, Banquereau, Sable Island, Misaine and St. Anne Banks (see Map No. 5). The fishing, which is entirely on the high seas, is shared with four other countries--Canada, France, Spain and Portugal. The Bank fishery is historic in that the grounds have been regularly fished by vessels from Europe ever since Cabot's discovery of the Island in 1497. For numbers of years the Banks were looked upon almost as the special preserve of the Bristol and West of England fishing fleet, which used annually to visit the North Atlantic in the summer months, drying their fish along the shore of Newfoundland. It was, indeed, the jealousy with which this prolific fishery was regarded in the west of England which was responsible for the ban placed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on the colonisation of the Island.* The fishery is not now visited by vessels from the United Kingdom, which have been replaced by local schooners, but large numbers of vessels, among them stern trawlers with refrigerating equipment, set out from France each year to fish on the Banks, and these are responsible for nearly three-quarters of the total quantity of fish caught.

  254. The fishery is conducted from Newfoundland by schooners of up to 150 tons, known as "Bankers," carrying a complement of 20-24 men and 10-12 dories. Three voyages are made to the Banks, in the spring, early summer and fall, the bait used being herring, caplin and squid respectively. Each voyage lasts about a month and about 1,500-1,750 quintals per schooner would be considered a good catch or "voyage." The method of fishing is for a schooner by means of its dories to pay out long lines in various directions, each line carrying, say, 1,000 hooks. The line is periodically lifted, and the fish having been secured, is rebaited and the process repeated. When the possibilities of one ground have been exhausted, the vessel moves on to another ground.

  255. The hazards and hardships endured by the isolated dory-men are legendary. Gales of wind, rough seas, rain, fog and even a liability to be run down by shipping, these are all in the day's work. Cut off from their mother-ship, some 100 miles from shore in the open Atlantic, in a tiny craft without power and with only an emergency sail, they must fend for themselves as best they may. It is possibly the severe conditions associated with this primitive method of fishing which is partly responsible for the gradual decrease in the number of vessels engaged in the Bank fishery, profitable though it is. In 1888 there were at work some 330 "Bankers," coming from all parts of the Island, and carrying some 8,000 men. To-day it is estimated that only about 40 banking vessels, carrying at most 1,000 men, regularly engage in the fishery. These come almost exclusively from ports on the south coast, such as Grand Bank and Burin. The east coast is to-day practically denuded of vessels capable of braving the open Atlantic.

  256. The fish caught on the Banks are gutted, washed and split on the vessels and then put into what is known as "salt-bulk," viz., they are stowed in the hold in a heavily salted condition without being dried or cured, the salt acting as a dehydrating preservative. On the return of the vessel to Newfoundland the fish are sold to merchants for export to foreign markets. In some cases fish are exported in "salt-bulk"; in others, they are dried and cured on shore prior to export.


  257. This takes place all round the coast of Newfoundland. As the temperature of the water rises, so the fish move nearer to the land, until finally in June they come right in-shore, following the caplin which comes in to spawn about the end of May. The caplin, a small and active fish of the smelt family, is a favourite food of the cod. These fish arrive in millions each year, apparently accompanying water of a minimum temperature of 39° to 40° Fahrenheit, and spawn in the sea down to a depth of 40 fathoms. After spawning they are exhausted and inert and in the first half of June the waters lapping the shore are so full of them that they can be taken out by the bucketful. In this condition they are an easy prey for the cod.

  258. The regularity with which the caplin arrive in-shore, and the practical certainty that they will be followed by the cod, have induced many fishermen to rely solely on the shore-fishery as a means of livelihood. This is at once the easiest and, in successful years, the cheapest form of fishing; easiest because a man may stay at home and conduct his fishing within a mile or two of his house and cheapest because only a small boat is required and, if trap-nets are used, bait can be dispensed with.

  259. In theory, there is no reason why the shore-fisherman should not, like the fisherman on the Banks, enjoy three separate spells of fishing each season; first, when he knows the fish are running only a few miles from land; second, when they arrive in-shore following the caplin; and third, when in the fall of the year they again visit shallower waters in the squid season. In practice, however, few shore-fishermen make any attempt to start fishing before the caplin arrive. If they then make a good catch, they are apt to neglect the fall fishery, which in any case is often hindered by lack of bait. Thus, as a general rule, the in-shore fisherman relies very largely, if not almost wholly, on the fishing of June and July for his annual catch.

  260. Originally shore-fishing was conducted solely by what is known as the "hook and line" method, i.e., by hand lines from small boats carrying two or three men. This method has been gradually, though not yet entirely, replaced by trap-nets, which resemble a large cage set in the sea with a small entrance on the shoreward side. Into this entrance the fish are led by leaders--long perpendicular walls of net set at the depth best calculated for the purpose. No bait is required. The nets are set off-shore at places where the fish are most likely to be running and all that is necessary is to visit them twice a day to secure the catch. Formerly, the fisherman relied solely on sail and oar for visiting his traps; to-day nearly every boat is fitted with a motor engine which, though adding to fishery costs, enables a wider area to be covered.

  * Para. 200.

Image description updated May, 2004.

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