CHAPTER VI.--THE FISHERIES.
II.--GENERAL REVIEW OF EXISTING SITUATION.
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
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
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
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.
* 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.