My Father-In-Law, Alex Best, is a retired fisherman. This is part of his fishing stage. Here he mends gear and, sometimes, boats. See the speedboat out in front? It is a work-in-progress. It was owned by Joe Emberley, who passed away a few years ago. It’s now the property of his daughter, Patricia, who’s married to my brother in law. He plans to fix it up in time for the food fishery which starts up again in a few weeks.
And this is the ‘back stage.’ Alex sold most of his catch at the nearby fish processing plant. If, however, he chose to process some of it himself this is where he would do it.
It’s covered with ochre, which was mixed with cod liver oil and painted on. That’s the way it’s always been done. Ochre is non-poisonous and very effective in preserving the wood. Cod liver oil is natural. How many paint jobs can claim to be environmentally friendly? This one can. In days past Alex’s father, John, (and his fathers before him) prepared most of his fish there. The cod was headed, gutted, cleaned and salted. The salted fish would then be dried on wooden platforms called flakes and packed into barrels, then subsequently sold. This age-old tradition was what kept Newfoundland’s economy moving since the early 1500’s (or maybe even earlier–who knows).
Dried Salt cod kept well, was cheap and nutritious. It kept bellies filled, particularly those of European soldiers and of the slaves who worked the Caribbean sugar plantation. Conditions on those plantations were awful but the plantations were hugely profitable for the owners. Around the time of the French revolution the sugar production from Haiti alone accounted for approximately 40% of sugar usage in England and France and 40% France’s exports! Its safe to say that sugar was to the eighteenth century economy roughly what petroleum is to that of the present day. And, just like today those that directly produced it benefited little from it; not the fishers who worked here and not those who toiled in the sugar cane fields. Greedy, powerful people elsewhere got rich, whether it was from selling sugar or fish. That never changes. And now the North Atlantic fish are mostly gone and Haiti’s land, economy and culture are in tatters all due to centuries of poor stewardship on behalf of all involved.
Back to the stage. It’s a working building.
Inside, there’s a cast-iron stove. It’s not needed now. Later on through the fall and winter when Alex is down here knitting lobster pot heads, repairing fishing gear and roping nets he’ll appreciate the heat.
That big pail doesn’t get much use now but it was once used every day on board the boat, for washing fish.
What do you suppose this big wooden ‘hammer’ was used for?
Hand lines. Gear for a sustainable fishery. They’ll give you enough–as opposed to “all of it.” It’s hard on the hands if you are not wearing gloves.
Up in the rafters you can see the name plate from Alex’s last fishing boat, the Blue Dawn. He and his son Brendan built it just before the cod moratorium came in so it never got as much use as they’d intended. It was around 32 feet long and was powered by a 180 Hp Volvo Penta Diesel.
Alex sold it a few years back. He’s retired from the fishery. His licence was bought out…for a song. The Federal Government wanted people like him out of the fishery.
His heart is still very much there, though. An occupation, a craft and all the associated skills were honed over a period of around 60 years. You don’t just turn it off like a light bulb when it’s done; it’s become a part of who you are.
What’s that? An old sail. Hasn’t been used in a long time. There’s an oar and a gaff there too.
Not an inch of ceiling space is wasted.
The double doors open out onto the wharf. Wide enough to get a boat through if you make the effort. Alex is there now, making room for…something.
All along the sides you find stuff. There’s even a small flat-bottomed-boat stored there. It was always carried on the stern of the Blue Dawn just in case.
You’d be surprised what Alex can make from those old pallets. Maybe you’ll see some of it in the next post.
Can you see the partially dried fish? It’s just a bit for food. It’s misty out right now. If the sun was out, the fish would be outside drying and curing.
And this is a working shed. Tools and supplies are everywhere; everything where it should be.
Even an old hauler.
Now you see the fish, right? They are fairly small codfish thanks to modern fishing technology. Stern draggers with their 6000 hp engines and otter trawls (giant dragged net cones, with mouths 25-30 metres wide held open by huge steel ‘doors’) indiscriminately scoop everything in their path. And kill it–all of it, the stuff that’s wanted and the stuff that’s not. Bycatch they call the stuff that’s not wanted. It’s generally just thrown away. Once living things; potential food–just thrown away. All the while the steel doors that keep the trawl open bang and scrape, bulldozer like, across the ocean bottom, destroying habitats that took thousands of years to form.
Thanks to generations of Foreign over-fishing partially enabled by Canada’s lack of will to take ocean stewardship seriously–hey, Ottawa apparently has much more important things to deal with than a few puny fishies and a few silly Newfoundlanders and Labradorians–there are precious few living things left in our once-abundant waters.
And what we have left is small. We’ve pretty much knocked it off. The rest of the world…well, to them the Grand Banks are just too tasty a morsel. And Ottawa–too stupid, apathetic, arrogant and cowardly to do anything about it
The motors belonging to Alex’s old speedboat; you met it earlier, sawed up in the grass.
Back outside. Notice that the white speedboat is now gone? Do you see that small wooden passage at the right of the shed? It seems hardly wide enough to let a one tonne 2.5 metre wide, 6 metre long boat through.
But that’s exactly what happened. We tipped it on its side and shoved it through that small spot onto the wharf where we turned it around and brought it through the double doors. We strained the rail a bit as you might imagine; nothing a few new nails didn’t fix.
This is a working shed. My Brothers in Law are losing no time in stripping away the rotten wood from the gunwales. It will all be replaced and the boat will be gel-coated, hopefully in time for the food fishery in a couple of weeks.
They’re not commercial fishers–one’s a welder and the other’s a nurse–but they’ve both got salt water in their veins, just like their father. There’s pressure on fishers to stop–that is, to stop doing it right; sustainably. You can’t stop the spirit, though. It’s alive and well and the proof is in the picture above.
Time to head back up toward the house.
Passing Alex’s other work shed. More pallets. Would you like to know what he does with them? Looks like he’s inside.
Time for a visit.
And, by the way, the big wooden hammer is a stake maul, used for driving sharpened fence posts into the earth.