CHAPTER VI.--THE FISHERIES.

II.--GENERAL REVIEW OF EXISTING SITUATION. (continued)

B.--Methods.

1. METHODS OF FISHING.

  309. (a) Deep Sea Fishing.--There has been a severe decline in the most adventurous type of fishing, that by schooners on the Banks. This decline has been responsible not only for a loss of morale but also for a serious decrease in the quantity of fish caught in March, April and May, when good drying weather is often experienced and when much idleness now exists. Contributory causes of the decline have been lure of easier employment in Canada and the United States, the attraction of regular work in railway construction prior to the War and in road construction after the War, the high price of outfits and the dead time waiting for bait. Lack of apprenticeship or training in navigation among the rising generation and the time wasted in locating the best fishing grounds, which vary from year to year, are also factors which have contributed to the decline.

  310. (b) Shore-Fishing.--Most of Newfoundland's total catch is now obtained by traps in-shore. This method attracts the fisherman, as bait is not required, large catches are frequently made, and the work is carried on during the best summer weather. The outfit is, however, expensive, and, as traps are stationary and fishermen usually ballot for stations, catches are necessarily speculative. This method of fishing has the additional disadvantage of restricting the active fishing season to a very few weeks of the year, and within these weeks most of the catch may be taken in a few days. It is difficult for a fisherman and his family to handle fish properly in such large quantities, and the fish frequently have to remain in "salt-bulk," until they can receive attention, for an undesirably long time.

  311. (c) The Labrador Fishery.--This is prosecuted by "floaters," i.e., schooners of 50-70 tons, mostly proceeding from ports on the east coast and visiting the Labrador coast for a month or two each summer; and by "stationers," i.e., individual fishermen conveyed to the Labrador coast by coastal steamers and fishing from the shore in the same manner as the shore-fishermen in Newfoundland. The fishery is of great importance in that it is responsible for about one-fifth of the total catch, and one-quarter of the total exports of the Island. The product is heavy-salted but there has been a deterioration in the cure partly because of a tendency to use too little salt, and partly because attempts to dry the fish in situ have been accommodated by unsuitable climatic and other conditions.

Red Bay Red Bay, 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.
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  312. (d) The Fall Fishery.--This takes place all over the Island and is usually prosecuted by motor-boats using bultows. Unfortunately, this fishery frequently fails owing to lack of bait. Small boats with hand lines also prosecute this fishery; while jiggers may also be used.

  313. (e) The Winter Fishery.--This fishery, prosecuted on the Banks off the western portion of the south coast, is of small proportions.

2. CURING.

  314. Facilities for curing are, on the whole, inadequate, chiefly owing to lack of running water for washing, and of apparatus for artificial drying. There has been much controversy in the Island as to the merits of artificial drying but, while it may be conceded that fish cured with care in good drying weather cannot be equalled by fish cured artificially, yet the fact remains that in the absence of facilities for artificial drying the quality of the cure is dependent on the vagaries of the weather. It cannot be doubted that if apparatus for artificial drying were available in each outport for use in damp seasons or in bad curing weather, the standard of cure would be achieved. The average air humidity in Newfoundland is well above normal, and thorough drying of fish frequently proves difficult or impossible. Moulds or bacterial infections are apt to result. The use of artificial drying as an aid to out-door drying would save the fishermen from these anxieties.

  315. The salt used in curing is mostly sea-salt, imported mainly from Cadiz and from Turks Island. It was formerly the practice for salt imported one year to be used the next. This is not now done and the suggestion has been made that in many instances the salt supplied to the fishermen has not been mature. In any case, however, sea-salt is more liable than mineral salt to carry bacterial infection. Mineral salt is sometimes used, usually being imported either from Hamburg or Malagesh, Nova Scotia, and it would seem that this practice might be extended with advantage. An essential requisite is, however, that the premises and utensils of fish-curers and fish-exporters should be kept clean. Unless this is done, even mineral salt cannot be kept free from bacterial contamination.

  316. It was sometimes urged by witnesses that it was essential if uniformity of cure and standardisation of product was to be achieved that the occupations of catching and curing should be kept separate, i.e., that the men who caught the fish should not be expected to take part in the curing, this operation being undertaken by shore-workers. To enable this principle to be maintained, it was suggested that curing stations should be set up round the coast, at first in all important fishery centres, and later at such intervals as would allow of the absorbtion of the total catch. If this were done, the fishermen would have nothing to do but catch fish, the fish when caught being sold "green," i.e., fresh from the sea and unsalted, to the curing stations to be cured. Such stations would be equipped with apparatus for artificial drying, and a greatly improved cure would result.

  317. The suggestion is attractive but we regret that, after careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion that, so far as the shore-fishery is concerned, it is impracticable--at any rate under present conditions. Had the fishery been more compact, the establishment of such stations would doubtless have been an economic proposition; but spread, as the fishery is, over some thousands of miles of coast-line and limited, as the present season is, to a few short weeks in the summer, the cost involved in the construction and the upkeep of such stations, and the very short intervals at which stations would be required if the fish were to arrive at them in fresh condition, would make the expenditure prohibitive. Nor do we feel that any useful purpose would be served by the erection of such stations at the principle shore-fishing centres, since the fish would mostly be brought in with a rush in two or three weeks of the year, and would require, if it was to be properly handled, a large and specially engaged staff, some acres of "flakes" or "stages," and a large-scale artificial dryer. Any advantage which might be gained in these circumstances in the direction of uniformity of cure might be off-set by the additional expense involved, with the result that the price paid to the fisherman for his fresh fish would be so low that he would be compelled to make a large additional catch if he was to make both ends meet. While feeling unable, however, to support this suggestion, we shall indicate later other directions in which the existing system might be improved.

Image description updated May, 2004.



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