I’ve been running around the past three weeks with little to no internet access and haven’t been able to blog, so I’ll try my best to catch up!
On July 7th, we left Blanc-Sablon to embark on an exciting 2 week-long journey across the southern coast of Newfoundland, with hopes of meeting and recruiting fishermen into QLF’s Marine Species at Risk observer program. It was a difficult task to plan this journey. If you have ever taken a good look at a map of Newfoundland, the first thing that may strike you is the complete lack of road connection along much of the island. I’m from Ontario, so even in the most remote of areas we have road access. Just the idea of this forsaken coast dotted with tiny outport communities that are only accessible by boat is completely fascinating to me. What would it look like? Who are these people living there and what are their stories? I couldn’t wait to find out!
So, after weeks of planning this trip, it was finally going to happen! We boarded the ferry to Newfoundland that Tuesday morning and drove the whole western coast in one day (it took over 8 hours). We had a short stop in Cow Head to meet with Stephanie for lunch, and continued on to Port-aux-Basques, where we checked in to a little bed and breakfast for the night. The next morning we drove along the coast to Rose Blanche, and were lucky to have a few hours to kill before our ferry left. We used the time to wander the little community and hike up the lighthouse – a beautifully-restored granite building perched high on a cliff keeping watch over the waters below.
It was soon time for us to leave behind our car and continue by boat on to the town of La Poile. I was bursting with excitement as we rounded a point and pulled into a narrow passageway that seemed to lead to nowhere. After a few minutes, though, the town came into sight, and it was spectacular! Tiny wood houses rose up from the water in tiers, built right onto the rock outcroppings. It was amazing!
We met with some local fishermen and learned of the sad state of affairs for the residents here. They told us that La Poile, like most other fishing settlements along the south coast, was quickly dying. Not so long ago these fishermen could put out as many hooks as they wanted in the water and catch all the fish they could manage, but now there are very strict regulations that limit the number of hooks, the length of line, and the weight and type of fish they are allowed to bring in. The government has made these regulations in order to prevent overfishing, but it has had a very profound effect on the traditional fishing lifestyle of the southwest coast. In places where fishing has not ceased altogether, it has been severely reduced. I could not believe it when they told me that for some of them, the fishing season is only a couple of weeks a year! It has forced their younger generation to look for work elsewhere in order to support themselves and their families – no longer can these people make a living off fishing. These communities are in such great decline. It’s sad to think that I am visiting these places now, but in a decade or two they may all be gone.