CHAPTER VI.--THE FISHERIES.
I.--DESCRIPTIVE AND EXPLANATORY.
The Cod Fishery.
THE CREDIT SYSTEM. (continued)
275. Two aspects of the
working of the credit system must here be noticed in amplification of the
description given in the previous chapter. The first is the procedure adopted
by the merchants in buying fish from the fisherman; the second, the
penalisation of the good fisherman who is careful in the cure of his fish,
in favour of those who are less careful.
276. In the past, two
methods have been in vogue in assessing the value of a fisherman's catch,
the "correct" system and the "talqual"* system. Under the former system it
was the practice for a fisherman to bring his fish, dried and cured, to the
merchant; the latter then had them spread out and "culled" or valued by a
culler, who separated the fish into piles according to his judgment of the
quality, a different value being assessed for each quality. The culler was
under oath to do justice in his assessment; instead, however, of being an
independent man, he was an employee of the merchant buying the fish. Unless,
therefore, he gave satisfaction to the merchant, he was in danger of losing
his livelihood. It is obvious that in these circumstances the scales were
heavily weighted against the fisherman.
277. None the less this
system was far preferable to that which developed from it as a result of the
War, when prices were so high and local competition so keen that merchants
were willing to take any fish they could get. During the War years, quantity
rather than quality became the ruling consideration; the "cull" was therefore
dispensed with and fish were brought on what is known as the "talqual" system,
viz., an average price was fixed for the whole of a fisherman's catch without
any exact regard to the varying qualities of the fish comprising the catch.
It is claimed by those who sponsored the "talqual" system that it was not
intended to disregard quality, the procedure being that the fish were first
inspected by the culler who, without sorting the fish into piles according to
quality, could quickly arrive at a fairly accurate estimate of the proportions
of good and inferior fish which the catch contained. An average value per
quintal was then struck and the amount payable to the fisherman calculated
accordingly. It is urged that the system, so worked, preserved the principle
of differentiation in quality, since the average value would vary with each
individual case; while, at the same time, the system was expeditious, gave
rise to less argument between buyer and seller, and generally operated in
favour of the fisherman.
278. This might have
been the case when the system was first introduced, and it is possible that
a few individual firms may have continued to operate the system in this way.
In a short time it became the practice of merchants throughout the country to
fix an average price of fish without regard to quality, i.e., they were so
anxious to buy all the fish that could be produced that they were prepared to
take the risk of the catch containing an undue proportion of inferior fish.
Under this system, the man who cured his fish well received exactly the same
price for the same quantity of fish as the man who cured his fish badly.
Human nature asserted itself and there was a gradual deterioration in the
average cure. The individual fisherman naturally asked himself why he should
take trouble with his fish (and the making of a good cure calls for skill,
patience and constant watchfulness) when his neighbour took none and received
the same return. The good fisherman, anxious to do his best, was thus
penalised by the system and tempted to lower his standards. In many cases,
subjected to the jeers of his fellows, he found the temptation too strong to
be resisted. This destructive system has continued almost up to the present
day and is largely responsible for the loss of reputation suffered by
Newfoundland products in the principal markets. Fortunately, it has now
been prohibited by statutory regulation, and no fish can now be brought from
fishermen except under a strict "cull." The culler, however, remains the
employee of the merchant.
279. In another way also
has the good fisherman been penalised by the working of the credit system.
When the fishermen approach the merchants for outfits on credit at the beginning
of the season, the latter know that in a number of cases, formerly a minority
now a majority, the advances made will not be fully recovered, partly from
causes outside the fisherman's control, such as the low price of fish or the
failure of the fishery in some localities, and partly because, as the results
of the combined operation of the talqual and credit systems, the less energetic
fisherman can no longer be trusted to make a good cure. The merchants therefore
fix their credit prices at a level which will ensure them against possible loss
on their supplies. This means that the good fisherman, who may be relied upon
to do his best, is paying for the possible shortcomings of his fellows. The
lower the price of fish, the greater the number of fishermen unlikely to balance
their accounts, the greater the margin required to safeguard the merchants
against loss, and the greater burden borne by the good fisherman. In times
like these, when in most parts of the Island it is as much as any fisherman can
do to come out on the right side, the good fisherman is being dragged down
instead of encouraged; it will not be his fault if he is soon brought to the
level of his less careful and less energetic fellows.
280. We will not repeat
here the description given in the earlier chapters of the effect of the credit
system on the life and habits of the people. (This indeed should properly be
called the "truck system" since it is virtually the same as that abolished by
law in England a hundred years ago.) But we cannot refrain from emphasizing
once again that the system is sapping the energy, initiative and moral sense of
the people and, instead of building them up into an independent and self-reliant
race, is reducing them to a state bordering on servitude. The responsibility
for this condition of affairs rests with the merchants, many of whom appreciate
its dangers and would wish to alter the system but see no way of escape from
it. They, like the people, are caught in its toils. But altered the system
must be, and Government action in this direction is urgently required.
281. The fish, when culled or valued according to quality, are divided into the following grades:--
(1) Shore Fish (including Bank Fish), dry salted.
(d) West India.
(2) Genuine Labrador (heavy salted, soft cured).
(a) Quality No. 1.
(b) Quality No. 2.
Shore-fish, including Bank fish,
which are cured in "Labrador style," i.e., in the same way as Labrador
fish, are described as "Heavy Salted, Soft Cured Newfoundland Codfish"
and are divided into the same grades of quality as Labrador fish.
282. The principal
markets for Newfoundland shore fish are Spain, Portugal, Italy, North
Brazil, Malta, Madeira, the British West Indies, Porto Rico and Cuba.
The principal markets for Labrador fish are Spain, Portugal, Italy, the
United Kingdom, Greece and Porto Rico.
||Mugford Tickle, Labrador, n.d.
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.
283. Shipments are made
throughout the year but principally in the months of September to December.
The fish are exported in a variety of containers, e.g.:--
Drums of 128
pounds and 64 pounds for North Brazil, Madeira and Cuba;
Drums of 112 pounds to Malta, and the West Indies;
Boxes of 112 pounds and 56 pounds to Oporto;
Casks of 560 pounds to Spain, Italy and Greece;
while shipments of shore-fish are also made in bulk to Portugal and of Labrador
fish in bulk to all Mediterranean markets.
* A corruption of the French "tel quel."
Image description updated May, 2004.