No codding for Chance Cove

July 11, 1997

AFTER working from 5am until noon to haul up a slim catch, fisherman Roy Clarke had to go and help his daughter move to Toronto. She has a job lined up.

His daughter is not the first person to leave the village of Chance Cove, Newfoundland. Ten years ago there were 500 people living there. Now, in line with the collapse of cod fishing, the population has fallen to 250.

Her future is now clearer than his own or others connected with the fishing industry in rural Newfoundland. Mr Clarke - a cod fisherman by trade - and many of his colleagues have had to diversify their catches, hauling in lumpfish and crab as alternatives to the fish that built this town.

Five hundred years ago, when explorer John Cabot landed somewhere near Chance Cove, he wrote in his log that he only had to dip his net into the water to fill it with cod. The venerable fish has even been part of a Newfoundland bar game, where one lucky person would end up having to kiss the cod.

But after 40,000 Atlantic Canadian fish-plant workers and fisher-folk lost their jobs in a federal government-imposed "northern cod" moratorium in 1992, it was more than just pub games that were to change.

Mr Clarke calculates he takes in five times less fish than he did before he needed government assistance to offset his earnings. But today, he and other rural Newfoundlanders in the fishing villages probably have five times as much anger and pessimism.

"Don't let the government in England destroy the fisheries like our government did," Mr Clarke said. A recent scientific journal article by three of the most respected Canadian fishery academics also points a finger for the fisheries debacle at bureaucratic and political forces. Their description of government manipulating information and manufacturing consent with a disregard for science has angered the federal department of fisheries and oceans.

Cod stocks in northern England are not at crisis point like Canada's, but the UK could benefit from the knowledge being gathered by Newfoundland academics on the effect on fishing communities, new ways to assess the local ecology and why the ban the government said would last two years passed its fifth anniversary last week.

Mr Clarke does not know what he will do once his assistance, scheduled to end in 1999 but rumoured to conclude one year earlier, runs out. His wife Dorothy says: "People are not going to stand by to see their kids go hungry."

The cash basis for the local economies is under severe strain. Some class divisions in communities have sprung up. Schools are closing and people are leaving. The questions are there and so is a team from Memorial University of Newfoundland, a university in the relatively healthy city of St John's.

Its Eco-Research Project (ERP), comprising a group of 33 researchers, spans biology, earth sciences, sociology, education, history and health sciences. The researchers are seeking to determine how people are faring during the crisis, what hope they have for the future, and whether their communities can be sustained. They have put the fisheries issues on the agenda and kept those outside the academic community up-to-date on their findings.

Biologist Johanne Fischer is looking at fish distribution patterns around the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. She may also have found a way to create a wider knowledge base, bringing together academics and the people living in the environments they study. Her paper, one of many produced by the ERP, has ten co-authors, all of them fishing people, including Roy Clarke.

"My interest was just to collect knowledge," said Dr Fischer. Her study, which started out by asking people "Who in the village knows a lot?", employed people on the water in a manner that runs beyond the usual scientist-fisher relationship.

Government scientists usually use fishers as glorified technicians. "The sentinel fisheries does not really include these people. They have no influence on the questions, methodology and analysis of the studies," said Dr Fischer, who also completed a study critical of the methods of aquaculture that many Newfoundlanders are looking to as a way to bring in cash.

Mr Clarke and Dr Fischer agree that lifting the moratorium soon would be wrong. Five years is thought necessary to replenish cod stocks to healthy levels. The government recently lifted the moratorium slightly, but as it was done on the eve of a federal election, many say the move was purely political.

Most fishers and academics say the fisheries crisis began long before the great decline in fish stocks. It started with the introduction of big trawlers and factory ships in the 1950s. As fish sizes diminished, smaller fishing boats were forced to continually reduce the sizes of their nets.

People in the inshore fishery had been challenging scientists about the health of the fish stocks, but for the most part, said one ERP researcher, "the claims were dismissed".

Some fishers are learning new skills. Tourism and more subsistence living are lessening the need for cash infusions but, as one resident of a town where 1,000 fishery workers were laid off put it, it will take a lot of bed and breakfasts to compensate for what they've lost.

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