Southport Products Ltd.

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

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Fred Dean, 1986

Southport suddenly appears around a bend in the road, a collection of wharves and fish stores crowding the water’s edge with neatly painted homes perched on rocky outcrops. Farther on, the Mary Ruth, a magnificent old two-masted schooner once the pride of the Hiscocks at Brigus, lies partly beached. Nearby is a modern wharf with space for about 20 vessels, and a fish plant with a split personality. It processes fish for Southport Products Ltd. and Clarenville Ocean Products, depending on the species.

“We buy fish and own the facility,” explains Fred Dean, 29, president of Southport Products. “But we lease it to Clarenville Ocean products who process groundfish—cod, turbot, flounder—and caplin. It’s filleted and put in trays with ice then shipped to Clarenville where they have freezers.

“Southport Products, our company, does pickled herring and mackerel, and squid if it comes along.  We’re packing pickled mackerel for the West Indian market now, 50 lbs. per pail, and we’ve done in the region of 4,000 pails so far.”

Fresh fish delivered to Clarenville is carefully orchestrated to arrive at the same time as fish from other plants, like Leading Tickle, so it can all be dealt with in one shift. But it’s a task hindered by rough, unpaved roads that can ruin tires and damage fish in transit if not handled carefully.

“It’s been a poor year for fish, the worst yet in this area. At one time we averaged about 3½ million pounds of groundfish a year, but this last year we were down to half a million pounds,” says Fred.

Southport, 1986

We remark that the Northern Peninsula and Labrador has had excellent cod catches this year.

“The theory on that is that Labrador, the Northern Peninsula and White Bay get their cod from the Hamilton Banks which, because of ice, didn’t get fished much the last few years. Bonavista Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Trinity Bay, and Conception Bay get their supplies from the Funk Island Bank and they’ve been overfished because the deep-sea boats haven’t been able to get up to the Hamilton Banks, or so the biologists tell us. They’ve also introduced these middle-distance vessels which is going to hurt the inshore fishery.”

Fred also thinks the eastern Canadian deep-sea fleet is partly to blame, too.  

“They dump an enormous amount of fish. I had a nephew went out on a dragger for a load of steak cod—fish 26 and 28 inches long. He said they brought back 300,000 lbs., about 20 per cent of the catch, and dumped the rest.”  

Yet, Fred notes, it is usually foreign boats that are accused of ruining the fishery.  

“I feel sorry for the poor Portuguese and Spaniards. They get blamed with overfishing and because their boats are small and old, they seem to be the only ones commandeered by the Canadian fishery protection vessels.  

The plant employed around 25 people this year, half the number they employ in a good year. Even then, it meant using small crews to ensure they could work enough hours to qualify for UIC benefits. But on the whole, Southport inhabitants manage to get by without resorting to Social Assistance.  

The Mary Ruth abandoned outside Fred Dean’s front door, 1986

“There’s five crews in boats less than 40 ft. and four in boats 40 to 58 ft. That takes care of most of the men in Southport. Most of the plant workers are women, that includes my three sisters: Ivy Lambert who does the bookkeeping, Dorothy Spurrell the weigh-master, and Margaret Spurrell who’s been helping with production this year as well.”  

One man noticeably absent is Arthur Dean, Fred’s father and founder of the company.  

“Oh, he lives in Clarenville. He comes down once in a while to show us how it’s done—as he says. And he calls once a day to see if we’re making any money or going broke.”  

At 29, Fred is a young company president although his success isn’t entirely surprising. (His former teacher, Silas Avery, credits him with being probably the brightest boy in his class.) But Fred is wondering what “old” is.  

“My daughter asked me the other day, ‘What was it like, Dad, in olden times when you were growing up?'”


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, September 2019

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