Nfld. & Labrador

A cod quality experiment in Bonavista: A Land & Sea archival special

From 1984, see an episode about a program aimed at improving the quality of fish caught offshore — and how there were growing pains.

From 1984, an episode about how longliners were trying to improve fish quality

In the early 1980s, Bonavista was a testing ground for new quality control regulations for the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery. (CBC)

In 1985, Newfoundland and Labrador's government brought in fish quality regulations that applied across the province.

But a year earlier, those regulations were being put into place in Bonavista — sometimes successfully, sometimes controversially. That experiment was the focus of this 1984 archival episode of Land & Sea, which you can view below. 

Those rules — which included stipulations on how fish would be processed at sea and a grading system — were meant to improve the quality, and therefore the price, of fish caught off the province's shores. Similar quality regulations had been in place in Iceland and Norway in the 1920s.

For longliner fishermen, things were actually going well — admittedly, despite expectations.

There had been concerns that fish stayed in the gillnets too long, and got too roughed up coming onto the boat, for the quality to be good.

The regulations meant more work on the boat, including bleeding out fish and icing them in the hold. (CBC)

Fisherman Rex Haley, however, felt that didn't have to be the case. It was all in the handling and the care taken with the catches, Haley said.

'Time for the fishermen to smarten up'

Haley had to hire another hand because of the additional on-boat work that the new regulations required, but he said he expected that to balance out with better quality fish, the ability to haul in more nets, and the time saved on work that would have been done on shore.

"It's worth the few extra dollars that we pay out to that man," he said.

Fish would be graded when they were brought on shore, according to a new system that paid more for higher grade fish. (CBC)

But there were problems with another aspect of the local fishery: the trap fishermen. The process of bringing those fish on board, gutting them, and icing them in the hold was time consuming and slowed down the work.

Trap fisherman Doug Whiffen hoped that the extra work meant higher prices for fish.

"It's going to mean a fair amount of money above the old price, you can see that," Whiffen said. 

"It's time for the fishermen to smarten up and not give away their fish for nothing."

The search for quality: Watch this 1984 episode from Land & Sea: 

But the plant management was concerned, because the quality grading at the time the fish came in wasn't bearing out the next day when the fish were processed.

Disagreements about implementation aside, everyone was on the same page about needing quality control. It was a matter of staying competitive.

"It's all right as long as you can sell bad fish," Haley said of the old ways. 

"But what if the time comes when you can't sell bad fish?"

Plant manager Graham Roome said that the quality of gill net fish had improved dramatically, but there were still concerns about the quality of the trap fish. (CBC)

Much more Land & Sea

Ready for a good binge? Check out our playlist of archival videos on our YouTube channel. 

Feel free to explore what's there. In the meantime, here are some other episodes you may enjoy: 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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