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Letters to the Editor (Northern Pen)
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Dear Editor,

I’ve written many letters to the editor over the past 40 years or so. I wish to offer an explanation of where those opinions and anecdotes came from. The anecdotes were fact in the sense that they were the recounting of real experiences.

The early letters came from day to day affairs, usually fishery related. Most of my 75 years was spent in inshore fishery environs. I am sort of embalmed in that milieu, as are most outport people my age.

A definite turn of events that sprouted a specific genre of letter writing occurred when DFO initiated a licensing system. That soon added another stumbling block into an already frustrating fishery. Dealing with the weather, fish prices, an iceberg in a codtrap, kelp in salmon nets, equipment breakdowns etc, was normal. Curtailing regulations added a dimension of frustration that came from an obvious source and could be targeted in my letters. I remember saying to a fishery officer when getting my first license (not needed when I started fishing) that the government now had the tool to destroy me. A letter written years later summed up the bitterness engendered between the time of licensing and when the letter was written. I wrote “we elect people to represent us, and when elected they attack us with the ferocity usually reserved for enemies.” That is a terrible sentence. With fish stocks declining, and expensive modern improved catching technology, the harvester began to be seen as the enemy.

Modern technology played a crucial role in the ever changing industry. Besides greater catching ability the expensive modern methods of catching and processing brought big money into the mix. Investment in infrastructure moved away from the harvester. Typical outport fisherpeople built their own boats, wharves, processing structures, storerooms, etc. Much of their effort consisted of investment in the industry. Money had more control of politics. Politics controlled licenses and quotas. My letters reflected my slant on that aspect of the changing power structure.

The years passed and I became an old man. The subject matter broadened in scope to include life after the commercial fishery. As said earlier, people of my background are embalmed in the ocean environs, especially as it pertains to fish. I found myself cast out of the world I knew, perhaps years to live and nowhere familiar to live them. I griped bitterly about that, maintaining my innocence in the destruction of fish stocks.

I was harmless I argued, being so small a player. Two examples come to mind. A Mr. Murrin of Goose Cove always anticipated the coming of spring, so he could set a net and catch a salmon or two. He was in his 80s at the time, was a commercial fisherman all his life and ancestors before him. He was denied that happiness. In another instance I discovered my older brother, in his mid-70s at the time, high spirited and busy in our twine loft. He was cutting down an old herring net, making a smaller version. He loves salt herring. His intentions were to fill a five gallon pail with salted herring. The catching was more important than the eating. I sat on an old molasses keg, aware of a rule that he considered impossible. “You’re not allowed to put that in the water.” I can’t find words to describe how I felt. He didn’t reply. With drooping shoulders and bowed head he dragged his feet to the stairwell leading down from the twine loft. I burned the net after he died a few years later. My letters reflected the rage and helpless hopelessness of that aspect of my life.

I also sometimes wrote favourably about social welfare programs such as EI, health care, old age pensions etc. that brought people across voids in income and essential care.

Ray Elliott,

St. Anthony

Organizations: Dear Editor

Geographic location: Goose Cove, St. Anthony

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