CHAPTER VI.--THE FISHERIES.
I.--DESCRIPTIVE AND EXPLANATORY. (continued)
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.
THE BANK FISHERY.
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Kingdom, which have been replaced by local schooners, but large numbers of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.
THE SHORE FISHERY.
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.