Furlong | Blunt truths I learned at The Broadcast

Having survived about 4,000 interviews and 10 fisheries ministers, John Furlong reflects on hosting a show focused on an endlessly controversial industry.
John Furlong conducted about 4,000 interviews over the course of his stint at the Fisheries Broadcast.

It was April 11, 2005. The theme rolled, the red light went on, and I took my first step up a very steep hill. Host of the venerable and storied Fisheries Broadcast.

Never had I approached an assignment so unprepared. Don't get me wrong. I'm comfortable in my own abilities and pretty skilled in making it up as I go along.

Many was the time early in my career when I rushed down the hall toward a studio to interview someone on a breaking story with a few questions scrawled on the back of a cigarette package. (I was probably the only one who ever used that "notes" feature on the flap of a package of Export A!)

But the fishery!

I shied away from it as a reporter, my eyes glazed over at the details, my mind felt like a sack of wet cement as I tried to understand the issues.

Here I am, eight years, three months and about four thousand interviews later, stepping away from the Broadcast for at least a year.

Ramona Dearing is the Host of Radio Noon and she's taking a leave of absence from her role. I'm thrilled to be asked to mind the store while she's gone. (And I want to assure the brass at the CBC who have entrusted me with this role they can rest assured that nothing will go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong ...)

Loved every second of it

I've learned so many things about our province and the fishery through The Broadcast. And I've loved every second of it.

I loved the passion of fishermen like Leo Seymour in Harbour Round and Conway Caines in Port Saunders, the pluck of people like Mildred Skinner in Harbour Breton and David Cassell in Roddickton, and the rich accents of people like John Hewitt in Trepassey and Emma Hay in Nain. The wisdom of Jack Troake in Twillingate always made me smile, and the observers like Gus Etchegary always kept it interesting.

Businessman Bill Barry was always a treat to interview because he was so direct. I never came away from speaking with him wondering: What did he mean by that? Clearwater's John Risley was the same way. And so was OCI's Martin Sullivan.

People like that were awfully difficult to convince to talk, but when they did, they never held back.

Derek Butler of the Association of Seafood Producers was always gracious on The Broadcast even when he knew he was being demonized by fishermen. 

I always enjoyed speaking with him. He has a brilliant mind, a broad range of experience in working around the world in International Affairs, and I loved the challenge of interviewing him about the fishery and listening to him think on his feet

The FFAW's Earle McCurdy was also a great interview. Never avoided the tough issues, always available, self-deprecating, sometimes offered a wonderful turn of phrase and I continued to admire his ability to serve his constituents so well. (We didn't always agree, mind you.)

A cavalcade of ministers

It's been a bit of a revolving door on the political side. Provincially, the first fisheries minister was Trevor Taylor, then Tom Rideout, back to Trevor Taylor, then Tom Hedderson, Clyde Jackman, Darin King and now Derrick Dalley.

On the federal side, we've had Geoff Regan, Loyola Hearn, Gail Shea and Keith Ashfield.

Ten ministers of fisheries, some better than others. Some, like Trevor Taylor, understood the issues and tried to effect change. Some didn't know if the fish portfolio came with an order of home fries.

They were political appointments, loyal soldiers in the government that have to be put somewhere. That's our system!

No wonder it's hard to get traction on the political front. No wonder it's hard to pin politicians down to make any tough decisions. Instead, you settle for a lot of empty phrases.

No will to take risks

No one seems interested in risking the political capital that would curb the regulations that threaten to strangle the industry. Imagine dictating to fishermen where they can sell their catch, just so that, in theory, part-time jobs can be created on shore.

Then there are the minimum processing requirements that many think have long outlived their intended purpose, and continue to devalue the fishery.  

Then there's the ongoing debate over how many quotas a boat can have as the government continues to block any attempts by fishermen to make a stronger business model for their enterprise.  

And don't forget the fact the province allows some companies to ship fish out unprocessed, but does not allow fishermen the same right.

Social engineering

Some of the regulations are aimed at socially engineering the fishery to gain maximum part-time employment, supported by E.I.

Little wonder no politician has the stomach to tackle the issues.

We are operating in a global fishery that is of mammoth proportions yet continue to act in isolation, hoping the world will beat a path to our door. In actual fact, it may be passing us by.  

For how long more is the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery going to wait for the good ole' days to come back?

A lesson from Jacob Marley                          

So people might be wise to look away from the political guidance that's needed.

There's a very telling scene in the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge leans over his dying partner, straining to hear what parting wisdom Jacob Marley has for him.

With his dying breath, Marley whispers, "Save yourself."

There may be a lesson in there somewhere for people involved in the fishery.

Hosting The Broadcast has been a great experience. Thanks for listening. As I'm fond of saying, I couldn't have done it without you!

As for the next host of The Broadcast, it should be announced soon. 

I propose having Derek Butler and Earle McCurdy co-host. What a show that would be. Think of the ratings! I'd tune in.

Every day.

5:30, five in most of Labrador.


  • An earlier version of this report had described Gerald Regan as a federal minister of fisheries; it was the former Nova Scotia premier's son, Geoff Regan, who held the post.
    Jul 17, 2013 11:35 AM NT

About the Author

John Furlong

John Furlong is a host on CBC Radio One in St. John's.