Nfld. & Labrador

No room for old men: Torbay commercial cod fishers say DFO favouring food fishery

Commercial fish harvesters in Torbay say they are being pushed out of Tappers Cove to make room for the food fishery.

Fish harvesters say they need a jib crane to do their job

Cod fisherman in Torbay / July, 2017 (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With a thin fog rolling into the harbour, a line of grey-haired men take formation along the side of a wharf and begin hauling fish.

There's no groundbreaking technology here — just a few men with their skiffs full of hulking cod. For the past two years, they've returned to commercial cod fishing in Tappers Cove.

But they say they've already run into trouble with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"We need a jib crane," fisherman Tom Martin said as he slid a knife through a fish and tossed its guts into the ocean.

"If it was wanted for [the] recreation [fishery], it would be here tomorrow."

As gulls circled for guts, the fishermen hoisted plastic tubs of cod up over the wharf and into waiting hands at the top. The tubs can weigh 100 pounds each — no easy lift when it comes in steady repetitions for half an hour.

Once all the cod are on the wharf, they must be lifted into a large container in the back of a pickup truck.

All this work can be eliminated by a jib crane — a mechanical rig to lift the fish directly from the boat to the truck.

But the fish harvesters of Tappers Cove said they've been told they won't be getting one, since their amount of landed fish does not meet certain criteria from the DFO's Small Craft Harbours (SCH) division.

"When we're leaning out over the wharf there hoisting fish, who's going to be responsible when one of us falls down the boat and gets killed?" said Nick Waterman, one of the more senior fishermen in the cove.

Tom Martin, a fisherman in Torbay, says the Small Craft Harbours division of DFO is trying to push commercial fishing out of Tappers Cove. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The fishermen said they need $50,000 for a jib crane, but can't get it. Meanwhile, they said, SCH spent more than $300,000 on a project to enlarge the parking lot at Tappers Cove — an upgrade that benefits the recreational fishery.

The cod is back. You see it right there.- Tom Martin, fisherman

On weekends, the lot is full with people launching boats to head out for the food fishery. Each boat owner must pay a $100 fee for a licence at the start of the season. Martin said the local harbour authority makes more money on the recreational fishers, who get preferential treatment.

Waterman, a sitting member of the authority committee, agreed.

"I'm only one voice for us," he said. 

Martin is a former member of the authority, but said he stepped down when he felt his voice didn't matter.

Calls to the Small Craft Harbours division were not returned to CBC. Martin said the fishermen will meet with Liberal MP Nick Whalen on Tuesday.

Cod is back, fishermen say, but help is needed

The skiffs were teeming with cod on Monday morning, and the harvesters said their catches are coming quick and easy.

Martin set three nets on Sunday, and collected a boatload of fish the next morning.

"The cod is back. You see it right there," he said, pointing to his boat. 

"I hauled three nets for that. So the cod is back."

Before the moratorium, it was common to see 20 or more boats waiting to unload their catches at the wharf in Tappers Cove, the men said. There were two jib cranes at work, making life easier on the crews in the water and on land. 

But wharf upgrades were undertaken in the last decade, and the cranes were removed. Even though small commercial cod fishing has returned, the cranes have not.

Fisher harvesters say cod has returned in Torbay, with plentiful catches and healthy fish. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Martin said the harvesters can't continue to do their jobs without it.

They worry about the future of a fishery at Tappers Cove if they continue to feel a push towards recreational fishing, he said.

"This is what made this place, and this is what's going to make it again," Martin said.

"Our work is right here and we're [being] forced out."

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.