During the last couple of weeks in Witless Bay, I have had the opportunity to speak with people about many different aspects of their daily life. What seems to keep popping up in our conversations is the changes in the cod fishery and fishing in general, since the moratorium.
Witless Bay, at one time was a thriving fishing community. The beaches were lined with stages and fish flakes ladened with salt fish. The landscape is very different now. A government wharf and another that has seen the effects of the sea’s bashing waves against its timbers, are all that remain along the coastline of Witless Bay.
I still remember the day John Crosbie announced the closure. Although I myself was not reliant on the fishery, I had felt as if a God given right had been stripped away. I remember feeling numb about this decision. It didn’t seem fair. How were people going to get by?
It’s been 22 years since that fateful day. Still, Witless Bay and many other communities are managing. The resilience of the residents plays an important role in recognizing how the community has adapted to this change. Fishing still goes on, mostly a food fishery that takes place over several weeks in the summer and fall. People like Joey Yard, one of the last inshore fishermen in Witless Bay, have managed to keep fishing despite altered market demands and allotted quotas that don’t add up to an amount the larger markets require. Basically an inshore fisherman has just enough quota to feed his family and if he’s lucky, a little extra to sell from time to time.
I was fortunate to meet Thomas Yard, Joey’s brother and he showed me pictures he had of their old stage and another one, once perched on the North Coast of Witless Bay. Neither stand anymore but they are evidence that fishing was once an industry here.
Thomas and Joey’s father and grandfather are also in two pictures posted below. Henry and Tom Yard, in one picture are cleaning fish in a large pan. In the second photo they are carrying the fish from the flakes in a handle-barrow.
What is evident in all these pictures is how fishing evolved through father and son through the generations. We see in these pictures Joey Yard’s father and grand-father making fish on the same land Joey and his son James use.
No doubt many coastal communities relied on the fishery for their livelihood. Will it ever come back? Nobody knows for sure, although they tell me there’s lots of fish out there. In Joey Yard’s words,”Only time will tell”.