Nfld. & Labrador

The Port de Grave fishery: A Land & Sea archival special

Some in Port de Grave were glad to see an emerging capelin fishery, while others worried about the impact on cod.

For some fishermen, capelin was bringing in the majority of their earnings

The ice was still in which meant the boats of Port de Grave were stuck inshore. (CBC)

For centuries, the cod fishery was king in Newfoundland and Labrador. But a couple of decades ago during springtime in Port de Grave, signs of a changing fishery were emerging as anxious fishermen waiting for the ice to leave the harbour so the season could start.

Once the ice that came down from Labrador finally moved on and the fishermen got out, cod was of course a focus. In that area cod traps were still being used, with fishermen hauling as many as eight or nine traps full of fish up some days. 

But capelin, the fish that cod feed on, were increasingly the focus for Port de Grave fishermen. At the time, Japanese buyers were offering up to 27 cents a pound for female capelin, a sign of the stock's lucrative potential. 

When the capelin came to shore, locals went out as always to catch them with everything they had on hand: buckets, coolers, whatever happened to be in the trunk. But the in-demand female capelin were kept to sell to fish plants, with the male capelin alone going in the deep freeze at home. 

When gathering capelin on shore, the lucrative females were separated from males. (CBC)

The capelin fishery was worth $30 million that year, with 42,000 tonnes landed off in the province. For some fishermen capelin made up most of their earnings that season, with cod being scarce.

But despite that value, some were worried about over-exploiting the species as a commercial fishery given how important the fish was as food for cod. 

Rowan Boone was concerned that a commercial capelin fishery would mean the end of catching fish on shore. (CBC)

"I agrees with it, alright, but after a few years there's not going to be no capelin come to land," said Mr. Boone as he stood on a beach where he was helping another man collect the fish.

Learn more about the changing fishery in Port de Grave in this episode of Land & Sea, available to watch in full on YouTube.

Want more Land & Sea? Click here to see a playlist of archival episodes on our YouTube channel, and you can watch more recent episodes on our CBC Gem streaming service here. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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