The cod moratorium was announced in 1992, but it was not until 1993 that area 3PS on the south coast was closed, the area where Wilfred Roberts of Hermitage fished.
At that time Wilfred, who had been a traditional fisherman all of his life, was dependent on cod as the main source of his income. “Cod was the main species in 1992”, he said, “and we were into lobster and other species such as red fish, pollock, hake and halibut. When 3PS reopened around 1996, the cod was limited to a ten percent by-catch; it became more difficult to make a living from the ocean.”
Wilfred was one of many who qualified for TAGS (The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy) during the shutdown; instead he began to work elsewhere - a life beyond the fishing boat but not unrelated to the fishery. Up until 1996 he worked as an inshore representative for the FFAW, and in that year he decided to give up his license to harvest fish: he sold his license back to the federal government, thereby relinquishing his right to fish. Wilfred, now 52 years old, had to pursue other ventures. “My four boys had left home, they had no interest in the fishery, they were not dependent on me to teach them my skills, so that made my decision to leave that much easier”, he explained.
For a while in 1996 he worked on the appeal board with the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans, hearing appeals from provincial fisherpeople who were applying for the core enterprise status. Then in February, 1997, he took a position as procurement officer with Compak Seafoods, a ground fish plant operating in Hermitage, his job here being to get raw materials for the plant and to see that the nets and other gear were available for the fishermen. “At this time the IQs (individual quotas) were coming in, and I was responsible for getting others up and down the coast to sell to Hermitage”, he added.
In 1998 Compak Seafoods became Seacrest, and Wilfred became manager of the Hermitage facility, a position he held until 2004. So from 1996 to 2004 Wilfred had left the fishery, but the fishery had not left him. For the next five years he worked in the construction industry in Ontario with his son Elvis, returning to his home in Newfoundland only during the construction off-season.
At age 65, Wilfred officially retired, spending more time in his longliner now converted to a pleasure boat, in his camper trailer and volunteering in his community. He was the last Master of the Loyal Orange Lodge, he is a 15-year member of the Lions Club, and he took the presidency of the New Haven 50-Plus Club in 2012. “I’m 68 now”, he said, “so I don’t want a lot more to do than I am doing, just a few things to keep me active.” I enjoy going on my computer and listening to Newfoundland and Irish songs on YouTube and googling jokes to tell the members at the meetings of our 50-Plus Club.”
Wilfred ended the interview by reflecting on the fishery of 2012. “Since the fishery became professionalized in the nineties, things have changed a lot. Once we caught all we could, and we made a good living from cod. Today, fish harvesters buy their individual quotas, and they can fish it whenever. “A harvester, now the owner of the enterprise, can work elsewhere and, when convenient, catch his cod quota, which is some instances is as low as 12,000 pounds. The fishery today is not a competitive one,” he adds, “unlike pre-moratorium days.”
“There are harvesters today who make a good living from the ocean, but most of these are multi-species enterprises. Fisherpeople have diversified and have gone to bigger boats. In 1991, cod made up more than one-half of the total fishery; today I would say that shellfish (crab, shrimp. whelk) is three-quarters.”
He concludes, “When the cod moratorium was announced in 1992, it was supposed to last two years; now 20 years later we still don’t have a viable cod fishery in this province.”
Cod is indeed no longer the king.