A future for the small-boat fishery?

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Dan Seward, 1986

Gooseberry Cove is tucked between high cliffs. It has two churches, a grocery store and a post office that also serves neighboring Butter Cove and Southport. The government wharf is almost empty today as most of the boats are out looking for mackerel. Farther out, four men and a crane are assembling crib work for a new breakwater to protect the battered wharf. The short beach is tightly packed with fish stores and behind it runs a dirt road. Two old men watch two young girls bump slowly along on a red, motorized tricycle. The chill, autumn air has driven most other people inside to watch TV via a network of antennas that form a straggling circle on the cliff tops above. Newer homes form a line along the road that winds up the hill out of Gooseberry Cove. Halfway along, we meet Dan Seward, chairman of the local fishermen’s committee who ushers us into his warm house to discuss the fishery.

“The fishery this season was pretty down overall,” says Dan. “The cod was fair in the spring, but then it tapered off after June. The fishermen here did good on the caplin, but they never caught it in this area. They had to go to Bonavista and Trinity Bays. Right now, most of the longliners from here have gone to the Dildo area looking for mackerel.”

Gooseberry Cove has about 10 longliners and a dozen smaller boats, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the smaller boats to catch mackerel.  

“It seems the bigger your boat and the better you’re equipped, the better chance you have. Boyswith 80-and 100-fathom seines can’t put up against a 200- or 250-fathom seine. The smallerboats have also got to see the mackerel while the bigger boats with sonar can catch them evenif they can’t see them. The groundfish have been quite different. For fellows with longliners it’s not been worth putting their nets out for cod and turbot these last few years because there’s none there.”  

Dan speculates part of the reason might be many lost nets that drift along the bottom and continue to catch fish.  

“Those nets are good for years and they can still catch fish and there must be hundreds of nets on the bottom. A couple of years ago, the fishermen’s committee and I asked Fisheries and Oceans for some kind of boat to clean up the bay. Then I spoke to Morrissey Johnson our MP, and he was surprised we didn’t get any results.  That was over a year ago and we haven’t heard anything from Morrissey Johnson or Fisheries.”  

Building new breakwater at Gooseberry Cove, 1986

Gooseberry Cove has a fish supply station that handles about 600,000 lbs. of groundfish a year. It’s owned by Fishery Products International who buy, weigh, and wash fish before trucking it to Charleston. But this year Terra Nova Fisheries in Clarenville bought all the cod, a bonus for Gooseberry Cove fishermen as Terra Nova accepts fish under 16 in. for its surimi process that other processors don’t want.  

Another bright spot for Gooseberry Cove is that Small Craft Harbours is spending over a $1 million on building the community a new breakwater.  

“Until now Gooseberry Cove had no harbor. Longliners could never tie up in winter like they Building new breakwater at Gooseberry Cove can at Southport or Little Hearts Ease—there’s no protection, especially from a northeast wind. But the least bit of frost at those places and they freeze solid, nothere. So with this new breakwater we will have a little harbor and I see the possibility for somewinter fishing.”  

Jack Seward, Gordon Seward, Kelly Smith and Patricia Seward, 1986

Dan, who was born at Gooseberry Cove, fished until the mid-1960s. “I gave up when it got that bad. Off Catalina and Bonavista, the bay was lit up like a city at night by draggers dragging. When I bought a cod trap from a fellow in Catalina in 1964, he laughed. He said in a few years there’d be nothing for a cod trap and no reason to have one. My three brothers are still at it though.  

“I worked as a truck driver, then at Come by Chance when it was building, and for the department of highways. Ten years ago I got arthritis and it put a stop to me, there and then.”  

But Dan still keeps his hand in the fishery, helping get projects like the new breakwater. This year, most of the fishermen at Gooseberry Cove got enough stamps for their UIC, but Dan is a little doubtful about the future.  

“I’m not sure the inshore fishery will come back,” he concludes.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, August 2019

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material