Government Involvement in the Fishery, 1940 - 1970

The Processing/Offshore Harvesting Sector

Almost from the beginning of the rise of the frozen fish industry in the early 1940s, the government began to offer assistance. The Commission of Government led the way, reflecting the belief that Newfoundland had to take advantage of the growing market for frozen fish in the United States. It was also thought that centralized production in processing plants would be more efficient than the traditional fishery, and would solve many of the difficulties associated with shore-cured saltfish.

In 1943, the Commission began offering loans to fishing companies willing to invest in frozen fish plants and offshore trawlers. After Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, the Liberal government of Joseph R. Smallwood continued this practice. Between 1950 and 1967, the Smallwood government provided nearly $30 million in loans to fish companies to build, expand or maintain processing plants, or to buy trawlers.

Although the federal government did not provide direct loans to fishing companies in Newfoundland until the late 1960s, it offered help in other ways. It sponsored research, both biological and technological through its Fisheries Research Board. The Fisheries Research Board maintained research stations throughout Atlantic Canada, including Newfoundland. As well, the federal government built wharves, made harbour improvements in some outports, and also installed "community stages," where fishers could clean and prepare their fish.

The Inshore Fishery

Both the provincial and federal governments also encouraged the modernization of the inshore fishery, encouraging fishers to invest in marine engines and in larger vessels, known as longliners - decked vessels ranging in length from 35 ft. to 60 ft. in length. Longliners were larger and more powerful than the typical inshore craft, and could travel further offshore. They could use a variety of harvesting gears, including longlining (where a long line, to which other shorter lines with baited hooks on the end were attached, was dragged through the water). Longliners could also use nets of various kinds, including a smaller version of the bag-like trawl net used by the offshore trawlers.

The Carl Venture, after 1982
The Carl Venture, after 1982
The Carl Venture a typical Newfoundland longliner, moored to a pier in St. John's. It was built in Nippers Harbour, Notre Dame Bay.
Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive (Captain Harry Stone Collection, PF-001.1-N20b), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

The provincial government gave assistance largely through the Fisheries Loan Board. The fishers had to secure a down-payment themselves, and the Board offered low-interest loans for the remainder. In addition, the federal government offered small bounties, or grants on some vessels, such as longliners. Although these vessels could catch large amounts of fish, they were also very expensive to buy and operate. As a result only a small number (less than 500) were built in the province in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the 1960s, the provincial government began offering assistance to those using vessels smaller than 35 ft. through the Inshore Fisheries Assistance Program. This program offered small bounties for those buying or building inshore vessels ranging from 24 ft. to 35 ft. in length. It also offered bounties for people wishing to buy nylon gillnets. These were long rectangular nets, typically 50 fathoms (1 fathom = 6 feet or 1.83 metres), that hung vertically in the water. The fish would try to swim through the net, but would get their gills caught in the mesh. Before the 1960s, very few gillnets were used in the Newfoundland inshore fishery. By 1965, however, there were some 18,000 fifty - fathom gillnets in Newfoundland.

An Inshore Skiff, 1968
An Inshore Skiff, 1968
An inshore fishing boat hauled up on a slipway at Haystack, Placentia Bay.
Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive (Captain Harry Stone Collection, PF-285.004), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

Unemployment Insurance

In 1957 the federal government extended the unemployment insurance program to all fishers. That meant the majority of inshore fishers, who could only fish for part of the year because of the weather, could receive benefits during the off season, as did other seasonal workers in Canada. However, the program only applied to people who caught fish, and not to those who cured or processed fish on shore (who were primarily women). Women were further discriminated against because the act specifically excluded women who caught fish from collecting benefits. If a woman was married to a crew member on a fishing boat, she was not entitled to participate in the program. although very few women worked as fish harvesters, some women did, either out of necessity or out of choice. This policy, however, made working as a fish harvester a poor economic choice for women. Only after this policy was challenged in the courts in the early 1980s were women married to crew members eligible to collect unemployment insurance benefits. Besides the inshore fishers, the people (mainly men) who worked on the offshore fishing trawlers also received Unemployment Insurance benefits.

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