Crisis in the fishery on the Burin Peninsula
Land & Sea 1981: Fishery Crisis
The Burin Peninsula was long regarded as one of the best and most prosperous fishing areas in Atlantic Canada, one that produced many of the province's best fishermen and seamen.
Things were starting to look very different in the area by 1981, with two of four major fish plants shuttered, and trawlermen and fish plant workers used to working year-round sitting idle.
Fish plants close
The closure of two of the area's fish plants hit many communities hard.
Fish plant worker Harriet Hillier said she and the other fish plant workers were concerned about what would come next.
"I think everybody else feels the same, wondering and hoping that it will open," Hillier said.
Some people, like brothers and trawlermen Issac and Michael Slaney of Point May, were considering leaving the area for other work. Both men were trying to get work on oil supply boats in St. John's.
The summer was easier to get through when people were still collecting employment insurance, Michael Slaney said, but things would soon change.
"When it gets colder, people are really going to find it," he said.
"People are really going to feel the pinch here."
No longer a lifetime job
Some people on the Burin Peninsula were still doing well in the fishery, working full time, but they weren't ignoring what was happening around them.
The Fishery Products International plant, at the time the largest in the province, was still running year-round in Marystown, with up to 1,000 employees, some of the 15,000 people working in fish plants in the province.
Having to ramp down those operations would be a major blow to both the company and the workers, said plant manager Bawne Rea.
"The thought of having [the plant] sit here for two or three months of the year with no fish going through it, is totally out of the question," Rea said.
Phonse Warren, skipper of the Zurita, was still working full time as a trawlerman year-round and wasn't too concerned yet about the fish plant closures, but even he realized that he might not be fishing forever.
"Apparently at one time when you were at this job you had a lifetime job," Warren said, "but I don't think of it that way anymore."
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