Nfld. & Labrador

Land & Sea: A slower Twillingate fishery has widespread effects

Fishermen in the area buy bigger boats and go further from shore to fish, and fish plants struggle to stay operational.

Fishermen buy bigger boats and go further from shore to fish, and fish plants struggle to stay operational

Twillingate fisherman Bruce Rogers sees this larger vessel as his only option to survive in the inshore cod fishery. (Land & Sea 1990)

In this archival episode of Land & Sea from 1990, fishermen, boat builders and a fish plant owner discuss how the slowdown of the inshore cod fishery is affecting the 7,500 people living in and around Twillingate and New World Island.

One of those fishermen is Ivan Harvey of Merritt's Harbour on New World Island. By 1990, the life Harvey wanted for his family — living in a small coastal community, working as an inshore cod fisherman — was becoming increasingly difficult to hold on to.

Ivan Harvey, a fisherman living on New World Island, says his only option if he has to quit fishing will be to leave Newfoundland — something he doesn't want to do. (Land & Sea 1990)

It was once possible to make a living, over a relatively short period of time, fishing inshore, even with just lines and hooks. But now the fish caught close to home could no longer pay the bills.

As Harvey sees it, his options are limited: suffer through a few years of bad fishing in the hopes that stocks recover, or get out of the industry altogether and make a choice he knows he doesn't want to make.

"If I gets out of the fishery, I got to leave Newfoundland," he said.

Buying bigger boats, going further out

The impact of those reduced catches was being felt at the Oceana Seafoods fish plant in Twillingate, along with many others around the province.

The previous year, Oceana relied on the catches from two middle-distance vessels, along with fish shipped in from Labrador and elsewhere in Newfoundland, to keep the plant running.

"The No. 1 priority for us is to do what we have to do to extend the shoulders of this season, to get as much material as we can into this plant early in the year and later in the year," said Gus Etchegary, the plant owner and a longtime spokesperson for the offshore fishing industry.

Some fishermen were investing in new vessels that would allow them to head further out in search of a catch.

Twillingate fisherman Bruce Rogers was out in a new, larger boat he built over the winter, but he wasn't having much luck so far.

The Oceana Seafoods fish plant in Twillingate began operations in 1956, but now needs to bring in fish from all over the island to keep its 475 employees working. (Land & Sea 1990)

As Rogers saw it, investing in that larger vessel was the only way he could continue working in the fishery. But he said that even fishermen who still worked from smaller boats were feeling the pressure to head farther out than they would have before.

"They've got to keep moving out for to get anything at all, for to survive at. There's not a thing inshore now,"

Trying to keep a fish plant operational

But larger boats or not, Etchegary was worried about the fishery around Twillingate and New World Island, for the 1990 season and for the long-term future.

"'I'm not sure people really understand this, but effectively what's happened is the northeast coast of Newfoundland has lost 43 million pounds of fish," he said.

"The impact of that in an area that was already in deep trouble, in my view, will be devastating in 1990."

Rogers says he sees smaller boats going farther out because of a lack of fish closer to shore. (Land & Sea 1990)

He was considering all options to keep Oceana Seafoods operational in Twillingate, in order to continue to service 875 fishermen and offer 475 jobs, he said. Those options included diversifying into other species, bringing in inshore seafood from other parts of the province, and buying fish from offshore trawlers. 

"I hope to hell we're successful."

See this episode

Click the player to enjoy this episode. 

More Land & Sea 

We've been posting episodes from the Land & Sea archives on the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador YouTube channel. 

Check out this playlist, and take a deep dive. 

You may also enjoy this episode from 1975, on fishing near Fogo Island. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador