The 'Terre-Neuve hommes' and the tensions over northern cod near N.L.

A lot of people wanted to fish for cod near Newfoundland. But that was only part of the problem in 1987.

'They say it's their future that's on the line, too'

Saint-Malo and the Terre-Neuve hommes

35 years ago
Marie Thompson reports from Saint-Malo, France, as French negotiators meet with Canadian officials in Ottawa in 1987. 2:43

The people who lived in the coastal community had, for centuries, been making their living off the sea.

It wasn't a good arrangement for Newfoundlanders, though, as those coastal people were from mainland France and they were fishing for cod near the Atlantic province and also near the French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon.

In March of 1987, France had sent negotiators to Ottawa, in hopes of dealing with a difficult issue — a boundary dispute in the waters around St-Pierre-Miquleon. 

And to entice them to participate in that discussion, Canadian officials had made a concession to the French which had caused controversy at home.

"To get these negotiations underway, Canada promised to let the French fish cod stocks off Newfoundland next year. That caused a furor in the province," the CBC's Knowlton Nash told viewers on The National on March 24, 1987.

"But over the years, fish in the waters near Newfoundland have also become important to the fishermen of France." 

A group of fishermen in Saint-Malo, France, are seen gathered in March 1987. (The National/CBC Archives)

The CBC's Marie Thompson took a look at how the issue was viewed by the people living in Saint-Malo, France, the coastal community whose trawlermen made their living pulling fish out of the Atlantic closer to North America.

"The sailors who fish those waters are known as Terre-Neuve hommes — Newfoundland men," Thompson said, underscoring the connection these fishermen held to the waters in dispute.

Fernand Leborgne of the Comapeche fish company said layoffs had been necessary as a result of being forced to stop fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence the previous year.

Speaking in French, Leborgne said the affected workers would be laid off for nine months. Any future work for them would depend on the outcome of the negotiations between Canada and France.

Thompson said it was the view of the people living in Saint-Malo that the outcome of those negotiations would affect them as much as the other parties involved.

"They say it's their future that's on the line, too, not just that of the people of St-Pierre and Newfoundland," said Thompson.

Comapeche's Fernand Leborgne said workers at his company had to be laid off because they were unable to fish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as they previously had. (The National/CBC Archives)