Caplin’s the cash catch

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

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Kevin Fitzgerald, 1986

Kevin Fitzgerald of Gooseberry Cove fishes from his 35-ft. boat the Joanne and Blair named after his two children. His was one of the boats not fishing for mackerel when we dropped by.

“We’ve been out looking for it, not fishing for it,” he says. “We did go down as far as Trinity in August and got around 15,000 lbs.”

There’s no quota on mackerel, but the price is low and fishermen debate whether it’s worth the cost of steaming around to find such a low value fish. The cash catch this year was caplin.

“We started caplin in June and it went on about four weeks. This year it fetched $1750 a ton, a lot better than last year when it was down to $1035 a ton. The trouble last year was they didn’t want the caplin, there was no market for it and they only took what was over 13 centimetres. This year they weren’t so particular.”

Gooseberry Cove, 1986

Kevin is also area chairman of the Fishermen’s Union. With so many fishermen depending on caplin for such a large part of their income, the Union wants fishermen to get the best deal possible from this short fishery. One thing Kevin would like is dockside grading.

“We did it one year with Terra Nova Fisheries in Clarenville. We helped pay the guy doing the grading and we figured we did better by it.”

At present, grading is done at the plant. Some of the fish may be damaged during transportation. Some may be dumped depending on the estimate of the amount of red feed plankton inside the fish. A buyer will accept only a certain per cent of red feed in the caplin’s stomach, the figure varies, and it is subtracted from the overall weight of the catch.

“You get one fellow checking the caplin and maybe he will say you’ve got 10 per cent red feed; another fellow from a different company will say it’s 40 per cent. That would be a lot of dollars in our pocket gone. I sent caplin tothe plant and found out the next day it had all been dumped. If they had told me at the wharf, I would have sent them something else and made a dollar that day.”  

Kevin’s other catch is turbot caught in gill nets, but very little was caught locally this year. He would like to see a return of the excellent squid catches of 1978 and 1979. He wouldn’t mind catching mackerel, either, if there were more of it.  

“A few years ago we had Bulgarian boats here all fall buying mackerel as fast as we could take them out. We ring seine and bar seine mackerel here, but they never came into the bars this year.  

“I’d say the future for the fishery is all right, but the price is the killer. I’d be out in the bay at the mackerel now but at 5 cents a pound it doesn’t pay me to go out there.

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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