301. Had the fisheries been placed in the past under the control of an independent Board or Commission, composed of disinterested persons and free from political interference, it is conceivable that their record would have been one of continuous progress and development instead of one of stagnation. In practice, however, the control of the fisheries has always been political. The governing authority, subject to the Legislature, is the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, who with his Department is charged with the duty of supervising the conduct of the various fisheries and of issuing the necessary regulations. The powers of the Minister have, to some extent, been curtailed by the establishment of the Salt Codfish Exportation Board, to which reference has been made, since the regulations proposed by the Board are submitted, not to the Minister but to the Executive Council for approval. But the principle of political control has been retained.

  302. As will be readily appreciated from the description of the existing political system given in Chapter V, political control in Newfoundland has involved periodic reversals of policy; lack of continuity; absence of expert service, nearly all appointments being political, without reference to merit; and the patronage of certain business firms in disregard of the just requirements of others. Moreover, it has been the practice for the Minister himself to be either a fisherman by origin, or a fish-exporter, or an expert in one branch of the fishing industry. This, in itself, has had unfortunate consequences, since the Minister has tended to pay undue regard to that branch of the industry or to that district with which he was most familiar, and to neglect or ignore the requirements of those branches outside the range of his own personal experience. We need say nothing of the temptation to use his power to his personal advantage to which a Minister, financially interested in the industry and continuing to conduct his business while in office, must have been constantly exposed.

  303. Subject to this type of control, those responsible for the conduct of the industry have dissipated their energies in jealousy and intrigue instead of concentrating on the development of the fisheries on rational and scientific lines. The system instead of encouraging co-operation, fostered disunion among the merchants; while successive Governments, embarking on ambitious schemes of industrial expansion and neglecting the fisheries except in so far as they impinged on the immediate political horizon, allowed the industry to drift. In the years since the War, loans were raised amounting to over $50,000,000 or half the Island's public debt. Of this formidable total, less than $1,000,000 was spent on the stimulation of the fisheries.

  304. A step of immense importance to the future of the industry was, however, taken in 1931, due to the initiative of the Government of the United Kingdom. The lack of organisation in the fishing industry and the need of scientific research were alike pointed out by the Dominions Royal Commission which visited the Island in 1914.* The failure of the steps taken after the War to remedy in part the former defect have already been recounted: no steps were taken to remedy the latter. In 1931, however, as a result of the establishment in the United Kingdom of the Empire Marketing Board and of the enquiries arising therefrom, a Fisheries Research Bureau was established in Newfoundland, under the direction of Dr. Harold Thompson, a distinguished marine biologist from the United Kingdom. An agreement was reached between the Empire Marketing Board and the Newfoundland Government providing that each party should pay one-half of the cost of the Bureau until the end of 1935. The Bureau, the need for which was not generally appreciated in Newfoundland, at first encountered many difficulties and some opposition, but we are happy to say that it is now firmly established as an essential element in the proper conduct of the fisheries. It has already succeeded in doing admirable work and is recognised both in Canada and the United States as a leading authority on the deep sea fishery on the Western North Atlantic. Its potential importance to the industry can hardly be exaggerated.

  305. Scientific investigation cannot, however, give full results so long as the administrative services of the Government are inefficient and the industry itself remains unorganised. A great responsibility therefore rests on the newly-established Salt Codfish Exportation Board. The establishment of this Board marks, we hope, a change of heart on the part of those engaged in the industry and, as such, is to be warmly commended. It can hardly be denied, however, that the functions of the Board, which are governmental in character and under the direction of a paid Civil servant, cannot properly be distinguished from those of the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries. Nor is there any adequate reason why the Board should be called upon to deal with the codfish alone, and not with subsidiary products, such as cod-liver oil, or with other fish, such as salmon and lobster.

  306. The creation of the Board as an independent unit but subject to political control really means that there are two Government Departments dealing with the fisheries. While the circumstances of the moment may have necessitated this expedient, the system cannot be continued without waste and overlapping, and the future of the Board will form the subject of one of our recommendations.


  307. From the commercial standpoint, the control of the industry, as has been seen, is in the hands of merchants or storekeepers who directly or through local agents persist in maintaining the credit system. This system is nothing more or less than a truck system. It fosters inefficiency and laxity, raises prices of essential commodities, lowers the standard of living and keeps the fisherman in a condition bordering on servitude. By depressing conditions in the industry and penalising the good fisherman for the shortcomings of others, it reacts to the disadvantage of the merchants themselves; while the very fact that money is a rarity and has such a limited circulation restricts business throughout the Island.

  308. The scattered nature of the population hinders the organisation of the fishermen into any Trade Union or Protective Society. They thus fall an easy prey to the local merchants in the outports. An attempt was made so long ago as 1908 to form a Fisherman's Protective Union covering the whole Island. This movement, led by Mr. (now Sir) William Coaker, attracted a wide response, but, on the Union entering the political field, support was not maintained. The Union still exists as a local entity in East Bonavista but it has long since ceased to be capable of influencing conditions in the fishing industry generally.

Harbour Breton, 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.
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Harbour Breton

  * Fourth Interim Report of the Royal Commission on the Natural Resources, Trade and Legislation of Certain Portions of His Majesty's Dominions, Cd. 7711, 1915, pages 6-8.

Image description updated May, 2004.

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