CHAPTER VI.--THE FISHERIES.

I.--DESCRIPTIVE AND EXPLANATORY.

The Cod Fishery.

THE SHORE FISHERY. (continued)

  261. Large catches are frequently made by trap-fishermen but the method has its disadvantages. In the first place the outfit is expensive and needs constant repair; secondly, as the net is fixed at a given spot, it is a gamble whether the fish will come into it, and catches in consequence are liable to be either too large or too small. If more fish are caught than the fisherman and his family can conveniently handle, the cure is likely to be spoiled and the fisherman will derive no higher return than he would obtain for a much smaller quantity of fish properly cured. On the other hand, it may be that once in a while, from some unknown cause, the fish will not come so far in-shore as to run into the traps: in such seasons, the trap fishermen, without the gear or bait for other methods of fishing, are apt to be left with an insignificant catch. This is what has happened during the 1933 season on almost the entire stretch of the east coast from Cape Bauld to Cape Race. Reference will be made later to this weakness in the present system.

  262. The shore-fishery accounts on the average for three-quarters of the entire catch of Newfoundland; of the catch of the shore-fishermen, by far the greater part is obtained by trap-fishing. The fishery in the fall is not conducted by means of traps (since the fish do not run quite so close to shore, and in any case the weather is too stormy for traps) but by motor-boats using bultows, long lines with hooks set at intervals in the sea-flow. This fishery produces the best fish, since in the fall the fish have recovered from the effects of the spawning season and have fattened by their summer diet. Their texture is firm and thick and their livers are rich in oil. It is often said that a good fall fishery makes all the difference in making the fishery pay, but the fact remains that it is not prosecuted energetically, while in recent years the notion has gained ground that squid is the only suitable bait. The occurrence of squid cannot be relied upon, and in those localities where it is not easily procurable the fall fishery is apt to be entirely neglected.

  263. The distinguishing features of the shore-fishery are that it is an "individual" fishery, i.e., that it is prosecuted by individual fishermen spread round the Island's 6,000 miles of coastline; that it is the easiest type of fishery since it is conducted by fishermen from their homes in small boats which they build themselves; and that it is as practised a short-season fishery, at best lasting for four months, from June to October, and sometimes for a few weeks only in June and July during which period the fish may only be running in large shoals for a fortnight. Yet it is to this very short season that the average fisherman looks to obtain earnings which will maintain himself and his family for the rest of the year.

  264. As a general rule, the fish caught by the shore-fisherman are dried and cured by the fisherman himself. When brought to shore, the fish are gutted, washed, split and lightly salted; they are then put to dry in the open air on wooden "stages" or "flakes" which are carpeted each spring with freshly-cut spruce-boughs. These stages or flakes are built so that the air can reach the fish from above and below and the drying process usually lasts about five or six days. Under this system, the weather is a determining factor in the cure. Good, drying weather consists of a bright, but not too warm, sun and a gentle breeze. Hot weather is apt to produce sun-burn--i.e., cooking--and to spoil the cure. Sunless days with mist or humidity in the atmosphere are what the fishermen most dread; a spell of such weather when the fish are being dried robs them of all prospects of a good cure. Even slight rain quickly spoils lightly-salted fish and they are accordingly covered up when rain is threatening. The fisherman may not be able, therefore, to put his fish out to dry every day; he must use his discretion according to the prospects of the weather and the stage to which the cure has advanced. On the other hand, as the fish are only lightly salted, they cannot be kept under cover for very long and, if the weather fails to improve, the fisherman must put his fish out and resign himself to making what cure he can. The cure thus varies not only in accordance with the ideas, ability to forecast the weather, character and intelligence of the individual fishermen but also with the climatic conditions prevailing in different localities.

Little Bauline Little Bauline (Southern Shore), n.d.
Photo by Holloway. 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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  265. A small quantity of the fish, when cured, is kept by the fisherman for winter consumption. The remainder is sold, usually to a local merchant, for export to foreign markets. The local merchant either exports the fish himself or re-sells them to one of the large exporting houses in St. John's. In some cases the latter also take fish direct from the fishermen. The present system under which fish are bought and sold is explained later.

THE LABRADOR FISHERY.

  266. The prolific fishery on the Labrador coast is a great asset to Newfoundland. Fishing usually begins in July, when the ice has left the coast, and may last until October. It is conducted both by settlers in Labrador, who live there all the year round (there are about 800 such families), and by numbers of fishermen from Newfoundland who visit the Labrador coast in the summer. The annual catch averages 320,000 quintals.

  267. Those permanently settled in Labrador fish from the shore in much the same way as the shore-fishermen in Newfoundland. The fishermen visiting the coast for the summer months are divided into two classes, those who fish from schooners, or "floaters", and those who fish from the shore, known as "stationers." In recent years the numbers of the former have decreased while the numbers of the latter have increased. The schooners favoured are locally built softwood schooners of about 50-70 tons, carrying about 10 men who, like those on the Banking vessels, fish as a team. These schooners follow the fish and have little difficulty as a rule in making a good catch or "voyage," which may be put at a minimum of 1,000 quintals per schooner. The fish when caught are gutted, washed, split, heavily salted and stowed in the hold until the catch is complete. When sufficient fish have been caught, or at the conclusion of the season, the vessel returns to Newfoundland, where the fish are cured for export. This is done either in the vessel's home port, where the catch is divided for curing among the families of the crew, or at a station for artificial curing near Bonavista, which was erected specially for the purpose a few years ago by the Monroe Export Company of St. John's. There is need for another curing station of this type. In the former case the fish are not sold to an exporter until they have been cured; in the latter, the fish are sold to the Company direct from the vessel.

  268. "Stationers", or fishermen who fish from the shore, work in two's and three's in small boats which are left permanently on the coast. These men leave their homes in Newfoundland at the beginning of July and travel to the Labrador coast on board one of the coastal steamers owned and operated by the Newfoundland Railway. Necessaries such as food, salt and gear are obtained on the coast either from local stores or from supply vessels which visit the coast for the purpose. So equipped, the fishermen, in their selected spots, with roughly built wooden huts and stages, conduct the fishery in much the same manner as the shore-fishermen in Newfoundland. The fish, when caught, are brought to shore to be dried and cured but, as little attention can be given to them owing to the time occupied in the actual fishing, they are heavily salted and so differ from the Newfoundland shore-fish, which is only lightly salted. When cured, they are disposed of to a collecting vessel, a system which has given rise to many difficulties and is partly responsible for a deterioration in the quality of the cure. In many cases, owing to a scarcity of timber, fish are dried not on stages but on rocks or any suitable flat space. In such cases the air cannot get to the fish from underneath and the cure suffers. There is also a tendency, both among "floaters" and "stationers", either to use too little salt or to use it in irregular quantities. The risks run from climatic conditions are intensified by these methods, and it may be said that the lack of attention on shore, the neglect in some cases to provide good drying stages, the use of an insufficient quantity of salt, and the tendency to dispose of fish to a collecting vessel whenever opportunity offers, even though such fish may not be fully cured, are weaknesses in the present system which have combined to reduce the quality of Labrador fish.

Image description updated May, 2004.



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